Francis DeBrouse, former president of a Teamster union local, went on trial today on racketeering, extortion and tax fraud charges involving alleged acceptance of more than $200,000 in goods and services from companies the union represented or sought to represent.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Rohrbaugh told the jury in U.S. District Clurt here that the case against DeBrouse "is based upon, to a large extent, circumstantial evidence" but that the evidence will lead logically to a guilty verdict.
Albert J. Ahern, DeBrouse's attorney called the prosecution's case "innuendo based on innuendo based on speculation based on hunch," and declared: "When this trial is over you'll tip your hat to Mr. DeBrouse."
DeBrouse was president from 1969 to 1977 of Teamster Local 639, which represented about 7,500 workers in the Washington area when he left office.
Rohrbaugh told the jury in his opening argument that DeBrouse practiced "subtle extortion" that involved no threats of physical violence or broken bones. "But each of the companies knew very well what Mr. Dezbrouse was asking for."
Reviewing each of the 15 counts of the indictment against DeBrouse, the prosecutor attempted to describe a pattern of labor-management racketeering. In one case, he said, evidence will show that weeks after DeBrouse agreed to a substandard contract for Teamsters who worked for Pinto Trucking Services, Pinto's president sent a check for $10,000 to a friend of DeBrouse who understood the money to be a loan from DeBrouse.
Rohrbaugh also said Giant Food provided architectural and design services for two houses DeBrouse hoped to build and carpeting for his home in Davidsonville, Md. The cost of these services were disguised in Giant's records, Rohrbaugh said.
"Giant will tell you... 639 was the most powerful union for that store," Rohrbaugh declared. "If the Teamsters hit you with a strike, the store closes up."
Ahern portrayed his client as a hardhitting labor leader who worked his way up through the ranks to become president of the local, which doubled in size and won new benefits.
Over the years, Ahern said, DeBrouse "made friends and he made enemies, some of whom are here today and will be called" as witnesses. He noted that during the investigation of labor-management racketeering DeBrouse was opposed by a dissident group which ousted him in 1977.
Ahern called the extortion charges phony, the racketeering charge absurd and said that charges of violating federal labor law are equivalent to "going through a traffic light."
The trial is expected to last almost a month.