The Senate Labor Committee issued a subpoena to Labor Secretary Raymond J. Donovan yesterday for a long list of records involving internal investigations of the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund and organized crime's influence on that and other union activities.
Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said in a statement that the Labor Department had effectively denied earlier requests for access to the records. He said he believed Donovan was getting "unsound advice" in dealing with the committee's inquiries.
Hatch said he hoped the department would "honor the subpoena rather than resist."
The documents, which the subpoena demands by April 20, primarily involve investigations conducted during the Carter administration of the Teamsters and of other union activities, mainly by the Labor Department's now defunct Special Investigations Section.
The Labor Committee approved the subpoena by a 15-to-0 vote, but only after more than an hour of partisan bickering about the secrecy with which Hatch and his investigators have handled the probe.
Committee Democrats were first briefed two days ago on the investigation into organized crime's influence on union activities, and on the Labor Department's pursuit of such allegations. The probe began nearly three months ago and, in Hatch's words, is "well advanced at this time."
Hatch said a prompt subpoena was necessary because "we have evidence that there have been people down there [at the Labor Department] who deliberately destroyed documents. We don't want that to happen to documents key to our investigation."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) maintained that, under the panel's rules, members must authorize an investigation before any subpoenas stemming from it could be issued.
Hatch disagreed but finally won approval for the subpoena by a formal vote after promising to keep the Democrats informed of the investigation's progress.
The destruction of records he cited concerned a two-year-old report by investigators for the Labor Department's inspector general on the alleged mishandling of departmental inquiries into the Teamsters union.
The matter was the subject of hearings last year by the Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee under Sam Nunn (D-Ga.). The panel still is drafting its findings.
One of Hatch's aides said he understood the report had been destroyed by an acting inspector general, ostensibly because it contained unsubstantiated "allegations of sexual preccadilloses."
Nunn's subcommittee eventually obtained a copy but decided to seal it and other records because of the nature of the allegations and to avoid compromising two Labor Department civil suits against some former trustees of the union's pension fund.
Other records sought by Hatch concern a reported Labor Department proposal to investigate a pension fund deposit of $17.5 million in former budget director Bert Lance's National Bank of Georgia, a study of a Teamsters-owned cable television station in Evansville, Ind., and a wide range of monthly reports on Labor Department's organized crime program.
Despite the apparent emphasis on Labor Department investigations during the Carter administration, Hatch's chief investigator, Frank Silbey, told reporters that "this is not an ideologically motivated thing. We are not pursuing a political vendetta."
Silbey said he has spoken with more than 100 past and present government officials in the last three months and has compiled repeated allegations "from really good people about files being taken out of their hands and recommendations for prosecution" being made and ignored.
A Labor Department spokesman told reporters that officials there will try to arrange meetings with Hatch's staff as soon as possible. He suggested that records had been held back primarily because "we wanted to coordinate with other departments, including Treasury and Justice."