A Teamsters disciplinary panel yesterday heard charges that union President Frank F. Fitzsimmons used Teamsters funds for a lavish life style and allowed organized crime to infiltrate the union.
Fitzsimmons did not appear in person before the special five-member panel of union leaders that met behind closed doors to hear the charges, which were filed 13 months ago by two rank-and-file members.
The panel, appointed by the union's executive board, could dismiss the charges or recommended that the board remove Fitzsimmons from office and fine him.
Fitzsimmon's attorney, Moazart G. Ratner, said Fitzsimmons will respond fully "at the appropriate time."
As the hearing got under way, several dozen union dissidents picketed the hotel meeting site with signs calling for Fitzsimmons removal from office.
Union dissidents who have been pushing for Fitzsimmons' ouster say they expect a whitewash.
"We're seeking justice but we'd be surprised if we got it," said Robert Windrem, research director of Professional Drivers Council (PROD), a dissident group that claims 6,3000 union members.
The charges were filed by Peter Vitrano of Local 641 in Jersey City, N.J., and William Berryhill of Local 922 in Hagerstown, Md., both members of PROD. In a 94-page bill of particulars, they accused Fitzsimmons of numerous constitutional violations including:
Salary overpayments to union officials, 327 of whom received more than $40,000 in 1976, the last year for which complete records are available.
Extensive appointment of relatives of executive board members as union officials.
Negotiation of "sweetheart" contracts - pacts that do not represent the interests of the covered members.
Writing by laws to allow use of union dues to finance a lavish personal life style that included a $160,000 salary last year, a $98,000 home in suburban Washington and a limousine.
Allowing organized crime to infiltrate the union, particularly in Cleveland, Ohio, and New Jersey.
The first session lasted six hours, and hearings resume today.