A Federal grand jury in New York yesterday indicted Joseph P. Tonelli, the president of the United Paperworkers International Union, on a charge of embezzling $360,000 in union funds.
The embezzled funds, according to the indictment, included $50,000 paid to two Atlanta lawyers Irwin W. Stolz Jr. and W. Homer Drake Jr. The lawyers both personal friends of Attorney General Griffin B. Bell, are under investigation by federal prosecutors for possible "obstruction of justice" in the Tonelli case.
In January, Stolz and Drake made an attempt to approach Bell on Tonelli's behalf.
Union treasurer Henry Segal was indicted along with Tonelli.
The indictment charged that Tonelli prepared a false letter that said the $30,000 payment was for representing the union in civil rights and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission cases in the Southeast.
Stolz, who was appointed to the Georgia State Court of Appeals in 1972 by then Gov. Jimmy Carter, said in a phone interview from Atlanta yesterday that he, Drake and their firm - Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hieres - had done "nothing illegal, unethical or improper" in representing the union or any of its officers.
He insisted that the firm had been retained by the union for labor law cases - an argument the grand jury rejected in charging Tonelli. And he said the approach he and Drake made to Bell's office "has been accepted professional conduct."
Tonelli 70, could not be reached for comment yesterday. The head of the 260,000-member paperworkers union is also a member of the AFL-CIO's powerful executive council.
He was appointed chairman of the New York State Racing Commission by Gov. Hugh Carey. The union's political fund has made sizable contributions to Democratic candidates in New York, including Carey, according to reports at the Federal Election Commission.
A Justice Department spokesman said that the two Atlanta attorneys "dropped in" to Bell's office on Jan. 18 to complain to the attorney general that Tonelli was being harassed by the Brooklyn prosecutors.
They spoke to J. Michael Kelly, Bell's counselor and "doorkeeper," and left a letter from Tonelli to the attorney general, the spokesman said.
Stolz and Drake did not see Bell that day, the spokesman added, because it is department procedure to refer such complaints to the proper division. "It's a waste of time for the judge (Bell) if he hasn't been briefed on the case," spokesman Terrenace B. Adamson said.
Kelly sent the complaint to Benjamin R. Civiletti, then head of the Criminal Division and acting deputy attorney general. Civiletti said in a recent interview that he got a letter from Drake on Feb. 6 and wrote back Feb. 9, saying Tonelli would be treated fairly, just like anyone else under investigation.
Civiletti said it is not unusual for defense attorneys to complain about prosecutors, but added that he did not begin formal inquiry because Drake never made any specific charge
Stolz said in an earlier interview that he and Drake went to Bell's office because "it seemed to be the best place to start."
Stolz and Drake, a former federal bankruptcy judge, have known Bell and his close aides for years. Stolz said he also was "an old friend" of President Carter, but said he and Drake made no approaches to the White House or anywhere else on Tonelli's behalf.
The firm hasn't been paid for representing Tonelli, Stolz said.
He said he had been before the grand jury in Brooklyn, but would be "stupefied" if he became a target of the investigation. Stolz suggested that the prosecutors might be looking at him and Drake to "embarrass and harass" us for making the approach to Bell's office.
"If that's a criminal offense, half the lawyers in town would be in jail," he said.
Tonelli was introduced to the Atlanta lawyers by Jack Miraglia, a labor consultant in New Jersey, Stolz said. Miraglia is mentioned in the indictment as the recipient of a phony $1,260 consulting fee on Feb. 1.Tonelli and Segal knew that the consultant had performed no services for the union, the indictment alleged.
Miraglia said in a telephone interview yesterday that he had worked for the union, but couldn't recall the specific payment mentioned in the indictment.
He said he knew the Atlanta firm by reputation because of work they had done recently for the Labor Department. He flew to Atlanta with Tonelli several months ago to meet Stolz and Drake, he said, "to discuss their representing discrimination cases against the union in the southeast."
Miraglia said he heard no discussion of Tonelli's potential criminal problems.
Yesterday's indictment charges that Tonelli and Segal engaged in a pattern of racketeering between 1973 and this year by stealing union funds for themselves.
For example, the grand jury alleged that the two would authorize and sign checks from union organizing funds and then have Jack Stone, Tonelli's assistant - an unindicted coconspirator - cash them. The three split some $290,000 in this manner over the years, according to the indictment.
Tonelli alone is charged with embezzling another $20,000 by filing false expense accounts with the union. For instance, he allegedly claimed more than $14,000 in "parking, taxis and tolls" over the last four years, while he reportedly had a chauffeur.
Conviction carries a maximum 20-year prison term on the two racketeering counts and 5 years on the 26 embezzlement counts.
In a second indictment filed yesterday, Tonelli and two other paperworkers union officials were charged with getting kickbacks after depositing hundreds of thousands of dollars in union pension funds in New York area banks. The pension funds were used as collateral for loans to an unidentified individual, who would then pass on some of the money to the union officials, the indictment said.
The investigation was headed by Brooklyn organized crime strike force chief Thomas Puccio, with assistance from Lothar Genge.