After almost three hours of listening to various versions of the Fifth Amendment, the Senate permanent investigations subcommittee yesterday finally found someone who would talk even if it did not exactly approve of most of what was said.
The star -- and, in fact, only real witness the subcommittee heard from yesterday -- was Thomas W. (Teddy) Gleason, 80, president of the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA), who went to Capitol Hill to defend his union against charges that is controlled by organized crime.
"I assure you, I am part of no mob," Gleason said indignantly.
But his antagonists on the subcommittee, Sens. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Warren Rudman (R-N.H.), were unimpressed by Gleason's charge that a series of "informers, accomplices and convicted criminals" slandered him and the ILA in earlier testimony.
Nunn said that "pervasive corruption exists in the ILA" all along the East Coast, and that "the list of crimes seems to be endless."
Gleason's appearance climaxed a series of hearings by the subcommittee on corruption in the ILA and East and Gulf Coast port industries. The hearings were prompted by a five-year Justice Department investigation that resulted in the convictions of scores of ILA officials.
After yesterday's hearing, Nunn and Radman issued a joint statement calling for several changes in existing laws, including a tightening of statues that allow union officials convicted of felonies to retain their offices pending the outcome of appeals.
Flanked by his attorney and his son, also a lawyer, Gleason yesterday read a 26-page prepared statement that Rudman later sarcastically said "had everything in it but the playing of "God Bless America.'"
The statement included references to Gleason's work habits ("I leave my one-bedroom apartment at 6 a.m. and am at my desk at 7 a.m."), the awards he has received (Israel Prime Minister's Award: Man of the Year-Catholic Youth Organization) and a number of tasks he had performed for the AFL-CIO and the U.S. government.
After Gleason said that he had cooperated in the Justice Department investigation of waterfront corruption, Nunn challenged him, asking if Gleason had answered the questions put to him by a grand jury in New York during the investigation.
Ordered to answer despite his lawyer's objections, Gleason conceded that he had invoked the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination during his appearance before the grand jury.
He also spent considerable time defending the ILA's tolerance for convicted felons among its officers, and, in the process, took a swipe at members of Congress who have become involved in the Abscam scandal.
On a percentage basis involving a union of 110,000 members, Gleason said, "I don't think 25 or 30 [convicted] guys compares with what I've been reading about, even in Congress."
Gleason was forced to admit that the ILA has removed none of its officers who are appealing criminal convictions growing out of the corruption investigation. "Many of these gentlemen I do not know," he said when shown a list of those ILA officials.
As for the ILA practice of promoting officials with longstanding criminal records, Gleason said blandly, "I think you have that in a lot of industries where you give a guy a chance to rehabilitate himself."
Gleason was preceded before the subcommittee by five other witnesses, each of whom invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to testify.
These included Tino Fiumara, described by subcommittee staff aides as a man so feared that he had the loyalty of ILA Vice President Vincent Colucci "even though Fiumara is credited with killing Colucci's two brothers," and Michael Clemente, described as a "feared and revered figure on the New York waterfront."
Another witness, Anthony Scotto, a former president of the Brooklyn ILA, did not appear. His lawyer, Harold Ungar, said Scotto had been admitted to a Long Island hospital Thursday night with a gall bladder condition, possibly "sludge in the gall bladder."
This diagnosis was made by a doctor from the Brooklyn ILA's medical clinic who normally handles certification of workman's compensation claims, Ungar said.
Subcommittee members, who had been told in earlier testimony that phony workman's compensation claims have become a major racket along the waterfront, said they want Scotto examined by a government doctor. Ungar promised cooperation.