A high-priced lobbyist who was mysteriously murdered early one morning when his car was forced off the road into the Potomac River.
A restaurant check with clues to the murder.
A clandestine meeting between an official of the Interstate Commerce Commission and the son of a reputed Mafia leader.
The goings-on in Room 208 of the Hall of Fame Motel in Nashville.
These are all elements in a year-old federal investigation into alleged influence peddling and mob influence at the ICC, a agency that makes hundreds of decisions every day about what cargoes individual trucking and rail firms can carry and where.
At stake are the millions of dollars spent each week to transport goods and people over the rails and highways of the country -- and who gets that business.
The investigation by the Justice Department has involved a federal grand jury here and scores of agents combing the records of regulated carriers, members of Congress and ICC officials.
But only recently and only because of a bitterly contested dismissal of one ICC official alleged to be a target of the Justice Department probe did the first details of the investigation come into focus.
But the revelations may raise more questions than they answer.
The story emerging reveals continuing attempts by the Justice Department to draw connections involving several members of Congress, ICC officials, trucking firms regulated by the ICC and organized crime figures involved in trucking operations.
Much of the evidence in the case has been presented to a grand jury here by the Organized Crime Strike Force, under the direction of John Dowd.
But the recent dismissals by the ICC of its former congressional liaison officer, Robert Oswald, and his aide, Richard Kyle -- both targets in the Justice Department investigation -- have led to a number of serious countercharges of widespread misconduct throughout the ICC.
The story began three years ago when Merle D. Baumgart, a Washington lobbyist and former congressional aide to Rep. Peter Rodino (D-N.J.), was killed in a strange auto accident.
Baumgart, 40, died in the early morning hours of May 20, 1975, when the car in which he was riding plunged off the George Washington Parkway and into the Potomac River. A woman driving the car escaped with minor injuries.
The Justice Department became interested in that accident after the U.S. Park Police called the death "very unusual." They discovered that ten days earlier two men in separate cars had forced Baumgart to stop his car on the same stretch of parkway where he later died, and one smashed the windows of Baumgart's car.
And shortly before his death, Baumgart told friends he feared for his life.
The Justice Department then learned that Baumgart was a close friend of Oswald, and that they had even lived together for a short time. And it was learned that a friend of Baumgart called a popular Capitol Hill restaurant, the Rotunda, the day after his death to ask that the restaurant hold Baumgart's bill from the night before so no one but the police could get whatever information that bill would show.Whatever information the check did provide remains a mystery.
Justice Department officials then began to hear tales of reported influence peddling by Oswald and other ICC officials, sometimes using the Rotunda. It was alleged that the maitre d' procured prostitutes for congressmen. The cost of the prostitutes was reported to have been picked up by organized crime interests.
But a year ago, after the official investigation had been launched, that maitre d', Alexis A. Goodarzi, was murdered gangland-style -- shot three times in the head.
At the same time, the Justice Department was investigating a meeting between Thomas Gambino, a director of a New York trucking firm and son of the late Mafia family boss Carlo Gambino, and Oswald. The ICC contends that Oswald was suggesting lawyers Gambino could use before ICC deliberations.
That trucking firm, Consolidated Carriers Corp., was experiencing considerable difficulty obtaining certification for routes from the ICC because it previously had shipped without ICC permission and had lied to agency staffers about ending such shipments.
ICC investigators contend that some time after Gambino's meeting with Oswald, Consolidated was the beneficiary of an unusual reversal, winning much of the authority denied earlier by the ICC.
When the Justice Department [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Kyle were targets of its investigation last year, the ICC suspended them with pay. But the Justice Department asked the ICC to refrain from taking any other disciplinary action against the two until the strike force had completed its work.
Several months passed, however, and the Justice probe dragged on. Finally, because of "the cloud over these two men and over the commission" due to the delay, according to ICC Chairman Dan O'Neal, "we had an obligation to open our own investigation." Last September, they were reinstated in "less sensitive positions" while the ICC conducted its internal investigation.
That internal investigation led to several clues that the ICC passed on to Justice, including alleged gifts and entertainment provided to Kyle by a Tennessee trucking firm called Pulaski Highway Express.
This January, after the internal probe was completed, Oswald was fired by the ICC for allegedly disclosing confidential ICC information, trying to get a witness to lie to the grand jury and arranging for attorneys to represent trucking companies before the ICC.
And two weeks ago, Kyle also was fired. But the charges the ICC made against him came predominantly from testimony and documentation supplied by two officials of the Pulaski Highway Express, Jewerl T. Foster and Wiley H. Horn.
It was Kyle's firing that broke the dam of information.
First the Washington Post learned that the Justice Department was investigating widespread entertaining by Pulaski officials of state and federal government officials at a motel in Nashville.
Then it was learned that the Justice Department had offered the two Pulaski officers who accused Kyle immunity in exchange for their cooperation. And ICC records disclose that Pulaski had more than 1,000 outstanding ICC rules violations.
But it turns out that no action was taken on the violations -- which could have cost the company millions of dollars -- because the ICC did grant the two officials immunity for their cooperation in its probe.
According to sources close to the investigation, Horn has entertained dozens of present and former state and federal officials in Room 208 of the Hall of Fame Motel in Nashville, which he lists as his official residence. Congressmen, at least one former ICC commissioner, several state officials and politicians were found to have visited that room at one time or another, sources said.
Although Kyle claims he and Horn were merely "good friends" who socialized together, and that Kyle was in no position to help Horn or Pulaski, the relationship between Pulaski and other guests had not been explained publicly.
According to sources, the Justice Department and the ICC have been trying to gather evidence on several state government officials as well as Oswald and Kyle. And Kyle himself was offered immunity, which he turned down.
Sources close to the investigation say the Justice Department had targeted Reps. Daniel Flood (D-Pa.) and John Murphy (D-N.Y.) in the probe, but have since shifted the emphasis of the investigation away from them.
The sources say Justice is concentrating more on trucking firms in New York, Tennessee and Kentucky, as well as state officials in the last two states.
In a letter to Attorney General Griffin B. Bell on May 16, Miles Ambrose, the attorney for Oswald and Kyle, accused the Justice Department of conducting an "unethical" investigation because it had been leaking documents to the press.
Also in that letter, which was obtained by the Washington Post, Ambrose revealed that Strike Force chief John Dowd said the Justice Department was nearly ready to indict Oswald for obstructing justice by trying to convince an attorney to lie to the grand jury to protect him.
"The import of our conversation with Mr. Dowd was that, if Mr. Oswald cooperated with the government, the status of his possible indictment would be reviewed and reconsidered," Ambrose wrote.
Ambrose further charged in the letter that the Justice Department probe has "shown as unusual and inexplicable interest in (Oswald's) . . . drinking and sexual activities."
"In at least one instance, the interrogators told a witness that Mrs. Oswald did not concern herself with any of Mr. Oswald's alleged extracurricular sexual activities," Ambrose claimed.
"I fail to see how Mr. Oswald's sex life or marital relationships is a proper subject of inquiry by the Department of Justice," Ambrose said, adding that the probe was "a gross violation of privacy."
Ambrose says that he has not yet received a response from Bell.
In an 18-page affidavit that he released after the ICC charges against him were leaked to the press, Kyle, outlined more than a dozen incidents of alleged misconduct by other ICC officials, including the present chairman, Dan O'Neal. In one case, Kyle alleged that the ICC hired a woman named Patricia Brislin, a friend of Rep. Flood, in exchange for smooth sailing on the ICC budget appropriation on the Hill.
Brislin has since been fired from the ICC after she was convicted for arranging payoffs to congressional aide Steven Elko from a Pennsylvania vocational school seeking government contracts. Elko was formerly an aide to Flood, and is now married to Brislin.
After conducting its own investigation of all of the charges made by Kyle, the ICC issued a point-by-point denial.
And Chairman O'Neal stated flatly that none of the actions attributed to him -- including his alleged leaking of a confidential document -- "ever happened. His (Kyle's) whole affidavit is undocumented and pretty distorted," O'Neal said.
But the disclosure that immunity was granted to the Pulaski officials, from whom all of the charges against Kyle have emanated, and that the government was willing to grant Kyle immunity raises still more questions.
After more than a year of probing and the offering of immunity to at least one trucking firm and the ICC official it was connected with, who are the targets now? And, how serious are the charges against Kyle? Is this a case of his friendship with someone who has common interests, or is it another example of a pattern of improper relationships between regulators and the industry they regulate?
John Dowd of the strike force, will only say that the investigation is still going on.