A Senate investigation of the Labor Department's five-year probe of a major Teamsters pension fund drew strong criticism yesterday from Labor Secretary Ray Marshall.
The secretary, angered by congressionally inspired charges that his department has been lax in its investigation of the Teamsters, accused the Senate subcommittee on permanent investigations of operating from "long-held biases" and "preordained conclusions" in evaluating the department.
"Some of the members of this subcommittee have made it clear at many times and in many ways . . . that they simply do not agree with the way we at the Labor Department perceive our enforcement responsibilities under ERISA (the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act) and other labor laws," Marshall said.
It was an unusually biting performance from a cabinet official who customarily has appeared before congressional committees as a supplicant, rather than a critic. And it did nothing to lessen the ire of Subcommittee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), who began the session by ordering Marshall to sit in the rear of the room while subcommittee staff lawyers described alleged efforts by high-ranking Lagor Department officials to destroy an internal report critical of its investigation.
Later in the day a Labor Department official told Congress he was ordered to halt investigation of possible criminal conduct by persons interfering with the Department's investigation of the Teamsters pension fund, news services reported.
The official, Richard Crino, was one of the two department field managers who had been assigned the task of conducting an internal investigation of the department probe.
He told the Senate subcommittee when he and a colleague finished their report in May 1979, he expected to be called back to Washington some day to finish the work.
[But Crino said he was told by Rocco "Rocky," Demarco, then the deputy assistant secretary for labor management services administration, not to continue his investigation.]
The charges made by the lawyers Marty Steinberg and Lavern Duffy, had been aired last month in a General Accounting Office report that had been presented at the initial subcommittee hearing on the Teamsters probe.
Labor Department officials, anticipating that the matter would be brought up again at yesterday's session, held a background briefing Friday detailing Marshall's planned defense. He stuck to script.
Marshall said the "destroyed" document basically was a working paper used to reorganize the department staff looking into the handling of the estimated $1.4 billion to $2 billion Central States Pension Fund -- the principal source of retirement security for about 450,000 Midwest trucking employes.
"There has been a great deal of loose talk, apparently emanating from the subcommittee staff, that the department has attempted to cover up some of the information found in the management review," Marshall said.
"The review included information divulged by employes in confidence, including both frank evaluations and petty and malicious allegations made by some employes against others . . ," he said. He said that once the valid parts of the review were used to implement staff changes, "the official [unnamed] coordinating the review discarded his copies."
However, he said, "there was no highly dramatic or willful destruction of documents," as Steinberg and Duffy alleged.
Marshall also defended his department's decision not to seek criminal indictments against Central States Pension Fund trusteess.