Teamsters Local Returned to Members
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ Teamsters Local 560 was a national symbol of Mafia corruption for decades, even before its longtime boss was linked to the disappearance of international Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa.
The federal government took control of Local 560 nearly 13 years ago, but on Thursday, its members _ truck drivers, warehouse workers and factory employees _ got their union back.
In removing his court-ordered trustee, U.S. District Judge Harold Ackerman accepted assertions from the trustee and law enforcement officials that the northern New Jersey union was finally free of a Mafia ``cancer″ that drained its pension and murdered dissidents.
``I never dreamed it would be such a long time,″ said Ackerman, who got the case when the U.S. Justice Department sued the union in 1982. In 1986, he imposed the order, the first federal takeover of a union.
Local 560, based in Union City, has about 4,400 members.
In the union’s first election in a decade, members in December chose former truck driver Pete Brown as president, which trustee Edwin Stier cited as evidence of ``fundamental change.″
The Brown ticket got 55 percent of the vote, soundly defeating two other tickets, including one led by the nephew of Michael Sciarra, elected president in 1988 but expelled for associating with the Genovese crime family.
``I believe that the power of organized crime to control Local 560 has been broken,″ Stier said.
Just in case, Ackerman retained jurisdiction over the union for four years, past its next election, in 2001, and enjoined its leaders from any actions or associations that could harm the union.
Among the spectators in the courtroom were a dozen rank-and-file Teamsters, including trucker William Scheeler of Livingston, wearing the union’s familiar black satin jacket.
A Teamster for 35 years, including the last 17 at Local 560, Scheeler said he was not surprised the government needed so long to cleanse the union, recalling how members were intimidated from speaking out and lulled by good wages.
``We made decent money,″ said Scheeler, 61, who put his two children through college. ``But now it comes time to retire, and (all) the pension money isn’t there.″
The mob’s tainted investments and dishonest loans cost members hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits, Stier estimated. He said the takeover exposed that one pension fund was heading for bankruptcy, and eventually members realized the price of mob exploitation.
Pension funds are now fully funded, at about $550 million compared with $100 million in the 1980s. But pensions are not as high as they could have been, he said.
From the 1950s, Local 560 became a ``cash cow″ for mobsters under the thumb of the late Anthony ``Tony Pro″ Provenzano, a convicted captain in the Genovese crime family, said Robert Stewart, a retired federal prosecutor who was among the original investigators of the union.
He recounted for Ackerman how Mafia chiefs of several families turned to Provenzano to arrange the elimination of Hoffa, who had been making anti-mob speeches.
Hoffa disappeared from Detroit in 1975. He is presumed dead. No one was ever charged.
His son was recently elected president of the international union in December, and Ackerman said it was ``ironic″ that the younger Hoffa would soon be swearing in Brown as Local 560 president.