Former Washington area Teamster leader Francis C. DeBrouse, on trial in federal court on labor racketeering, tax fraud and extortion charges, took the stand in his own defense today, claiming vigorously that "I never extorted anything from any union, company or anyone else in my life."
DeBrouse in charged with having used his union position to obtain more than $200,000 worth of goods and services from companies with whom DeBrouse bargained on behalf on Teamster members. Until 1977, DeBrouse headed the nearly 8,000-member Teamster Local 639 in Washington.
With the trial in its fifth week, DeBrouse and his wife Gloria took the stand today to describe the events leading up to his indictment in a version sharply at odds with the pattern of corruption claimed by government prosecutors.
While the prosecution had pictured DeBrouse as a labor union official throwing his weight around and pressing for favors, they told a story of a family falling naturally into business relationships with people they had met or heard of through some of DeBrous's union dealings-and not always getting the best of the deals.
Instead of the $145,000 favor that the prosecution contends was extended to DeBrouse by the construction company that built the DeBrouses' home, Gloria DeBrouse described a construction process complicated by broken promises, cost cutting and inadequate work by the builders, Lyon Builders Inc.
The 16-count indictment of DeBrouse asserts that Lyon Builders, on behalf of Excavation Construction Inc., built DeBrouse a house that cost $280,000 but for which DeBrouse paid $135,000. Truck drivers who worked for Excavation Construction Inc., which is half owned by John W. Lyon, presidnet of Lyon Builders, were represented by Local 639 at the time. Lyon Builders have since sued DeBrouse for money allegedly owed for the house.
The house, a spacious, skylighted building with a swimming pool and tennis court set on a 2.7-acre lot in the Tara subdivision of Davidsonville in Anne Arundel County, is central to most of the counts in the indictment. It was the dream house of Gloria DeBrouse, who helped design it and spent most of her waking hours working on it when it was under construction DeBrouse testified.
Mrs. DeBrouse testified that there were instances in which the construction company persuaded her to use cheaper materials and that she frequently paid for items the construction company was supposed to pay for. Those payments were never repaid or credited to the DeBrouses, she said.
Carpeting worth $7,000, which the prosecution contends was supplied free to DeBrouse as one of several favors from Giant Food Inc., was to have been paid for by Lyon Builders, Mrs. DeBrouse said. As in the case of other items for the house, the supplier declined to bill Lyon Builders and charged the DeBrouses instead, she said.
Mrs. DeBrouse testified that Giant Food officials were aware that the bills went unpaid because of the dispute with Lyon Builders over who should pay. Giant officials testified to the contrary.
The DeBrouses testified that they did not believe that the architectural design services for their house in Davidsonville or work that was done on a beach house that was never built came from Giant Food, as claimed in one of the extortion counts.
The man who did the design, Robert Picardat testified that he did the work under a retainer he received from Giant after he left the grocery chain's employ. The indictment valued that work at $19,000.
The DeBrouses said that Picardat was working for a lawn service company at the time he was designing their house. When the subject of money came up, Picardat asked them to buy a lawn service contract, which they did, and to consider buying a lawn service franchise which they considered and rejected, they testified.
"I thought he was happy with that," said DeBrouse. "He wasn't in the architecture business. He was in the lawn care business," said DeBrouse. DeBrouse also said he took Picardat and his wife to dinner and "bought him a case of Chivas Regal to show my gratitude toward him."