A federal grand jury is looking into allegations that officials of the Interstate Commerce Commission may have had improper dealings with trucking companies suspected of ties to organized crime, Justice Department sources said yesterday.
The sources confirmed that evidence gathered by the FBI is being presented to a federal grand jury here. They added that John Dowd, a Justice Department prosecutor who specializes in organized-crime and corruption cases, is handling the grand jury presentation.
Although the sources were unable to provide details about the probe, they said it centers, in part, on whether advance work of decisions by the ICC - the government's regulator of railroads, tucks and buses - was improperly leacked to interested persons and organizations.
Sources within the ICC confirmed that two apparent targets of the investigation are Robert L. Oswald, 43, the ICC's secretary and chief of congressional relations, deputy.
The secretary's office is the top staff position within the ICC, with all decisions being processed through that office before being announced to the public.
Federal law prohibits giving out information on ICC decisions in advance of their public announcement, because firms involved in these decisions might be able to use the information to gain advantages over competitors.
Initial disclosure of the probe was made by The St. Paul Pioneer Press in an article published yesterday. It said that at least three unidentified transportation firms, two with alleged organized-crime ties, were being investigated.
The Pioneer Press article also said that Oswald's wife, Kathleen Benson, may be asked to testify before the grand jury. She is administrative assistant to Rep. John E. Moss (D-Calif), senior member of the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee, which oversees the ICC.
Neither Oswald nor Kyle could be reached for comment yesterday. The Pioneer Press said, though, that Kyle had confirmed contacts between his attorneys and the Justice Department. He added, according to The Pioneer Press, that he did not know what the Justice Department had asked his lawyers.
Benson told The Washington Post yesterday: "I am not under investigation. To the best of my knowlege I refused to comment beyond that statement and would not say whether anyone had contacted her about her huband's activities.
Moss also said he had not been contacted by anyone except the press, and added that he had "no knowledge of anything except what the press has told me."
The Justice Department sources said the investigation was initiated several weeks ago with the field work being carried out by the bureau's Special Investigative Division, which has responsibility for organized-crime matters. They said that FBI investigators had removed a large number of files from the ICC relating to a number of cases and decisions.
The ICC yesterday made this official comment: "Regardless of whether an investigation were under way it would seem that the very nature of such an action, and the rights of those who may be involved, would make any further comment by the commission inappropriate at this time."