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Justice Dept.: Teamsters Should Pay

July 24, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Having failed to secure funds to supervise the Teamsters election, the Justice Department sought to force the union to conduct its own rank-and-file vote under new guidelines laid out in a legal brief made public Friday.

In its 80-page brief, the government told U.S. District Judge David Edelstein that despite delays that have made it questionable whether ballots could be printed and processed in time, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ race still should be completed by Oct. 14.

``After receiving comments from the IBT, the candidates, and any other interested parties, the court should order the IBT to conduct the rerun election in accordance with the government’s proposed plan,″ said the brief by Mary Jo White, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Meanwhile, a House panel investigating the failed 1996 Teamsters election questioned work the current White House counsel previously performed for the union. And Democrats accused Republican lawmakers of improperly coordinating their probe with allies of union presidential candidate James P. Hoffa.

Under the terms of a 1989 consent decree the union signed with Justice, the government could supervise the 1996 election if it was willing to pay for it. That election, which Hoffa narrowly lost to incumbent Ron Carey, was overturned after investigators found an illegal fund-raising scheme that used more than $800,000 to boost Carey’s re-election.

Republicans were outraged that an election underwritten with $17.5 million in public money had been corrupted, and they blocked the $8.6 million needed for the rerun.

White said she would continue to lobby for funds, but conceded that an alternate plan was needed. Her proposal called for a three-member board be appointed by the union’s executive board to conduct the election under the watchful eye of a court-appointed master.

The union, bolstered by a 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision, has repeatedly said that the government is obligated to pay for the rerun. Aaron Belk, a member of the union’s general executive board, said the board reaffirmed that position in a resolution passed earlier this week.

Belk was the key witness Friday before a House panel that is probing the Teamsters and that looked into the work Charles F.C. Ruff performed for the union before he became White House counsel.

In a September 1996 affidavit, Ruff said he and his law firm, Covington & Burling, advised the union from December 1993 to August 1995 on its anti-corruption efforts, and ``served as counsel to the IBT’s Ethical Practices Committee.″ He also said the law firm never represented Carey ``in his personal capacity.″

Belk, who headed that ethics committee from 1992 until early 1995, said he was unaware of any work the law firm performed for his committee, and a log the firm gave the committee referred to work concerning a court-appointed board’s investigation into charges that Carey was tied to organized crime.

``We’re not drawing conclusions yet; it’s an interesting statement,″ said Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R- Mich., chairman of the Education and Workforce subcommittee. He said he may ask Ruff to appear before the committee.

But union officials said Ruff represented the IBT, not Carey, who waived his right to counsel, during the inquiry that absolved Carey of all charges. And Belk, who remembered being introduced to Ruff, also became Carey’s executive assistant in January 1994 and was phased out of his ethics committee responsibilities that year.

Under questioning by Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., Belk confirmed that Republican staff members told him George Geller, an attorney active in the Hoffa campaign, would help prepare his testimony. Geller said he spoke with Belk once or twice, but that he was not involved in preparing his testimony.

A spokesman for Tom Leedham, Hoffa’s chief opponent, said the admission was ``the smoking gun″ that Hoekstra was working hand-in-hand with Hoffa. He said the Leedham campaign would complain to the election officer.

Hoekstra said he would look into the charges, but denied he was taking sides in internal union affairs. ``That’s not a congressional role,″ he said.

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