Roy L. Williams, interim president of the Teamsters union, and four other men were indicted by a federal grand jury in Chicago yesterday for conspiring to bribe Sen. Howard W. Cannon (D-Nev.).
Last December, the Justice Department dropped an investigation of Cannon involving the same alleged plot to let the senator buy some Teamsters' land in Las Vegas in return for his delaying introduction and passage of a trucking deregulation bill.
Charged with Williams in the indictment were Allen M. Dorfman, an insurance executive and former consultant to the Teamsters' Central States Pension Fund, who was convicted in a fund kickback case in 1972; Thomas F. O'Malley and Andrew G. Massa, fund employer trustees, and Joseph Lombardo, whom sources described as a Dorfman associate with organized crime connections.
The defendants allegedly tried to give Cannon the exclusive right to buy at a specified price 5.8 acres he and some neighbors were trying to save from high-rise development.
Cannon met with Dorfman and Williams in his Las Vegas office Jan. 10, 1979, and court-authorized wiretiaps of Dorfman later overheard the accused discussing how other parties were withdrawing their bids on the property, the indictment said.
The land later was sold to another bidder with no connection to Cannon's group. The trucking deregulation bill was passed and signed into law last July.
Williams issued a statement calling the charges "a damn lie," and left little doubt that he plans to seek a full five-year term as president when the Teamsters international convention starts June 1 in Las Vegas. "No indictment will stop me from fighting for the economic survival of all my Teamster brothers and sisters," he said.
"Neither the federal bureaucracy nor headline-grabbing politicians are going to run the largest labor union in the world. This union is and will continue to be run by the hardworking, patriotic rand-and-file members who have built it, and I am proud to put my future in their hands," Williams said.
Ray Schoessling, general secretary of the union, said Williams' executive board colleagues "believe in his innocence and unanimously support him, not only against the charges, but also in his bid for a five-year term as general president of this great international union."
Dissident union members plan to challenge Williams at the convention, but Ken Paff, of Teamsters for a Democratic Union, said the delegate selection is stacked against the rank and file.
Williams' attorneys last night gave television reporters the results of two lie detector tests they said he passed when denying he had tried to bribe Cannon. Justice Department prosecutors declined to offer to have Williams submit to a third test administered by an FBI expert, they said.
David Margolis, head of the organized crime section at the Justice Department's Criminal Division, said yesterday that the appearance of the indictment just before the Teamsters' convention was coincidental.
"We don't push indictments to come before an election. We don't delay them past an election. We bring them when they're ready," Margolis said.
The indictment was politically sensitive for top officials of the Reagan Justice Department because the Teamsters was one of few major unions that endorsed Reagan's election campaign against Jimmy Carter.
D. Lowell Jensen, head of the Criminal Division, said the information about the alleged scheme to bribe Cannon arose during an FBI investigation called "Pendorf," for pension and Dorfman.
The 11-count indictment includes one charge of conspiracy, one of interstate travel to further the alleged bribery and nine of wire fraud for tapped telephone calls discussing the scheme.
Cannon issued a statement yesterday saying he had cooperated in the investigation and viewed the indictment as "an extension of the 30-year war between the Teamsters and the Justice Department." He said he met Dorfman and Williams once to discuss Nevada Teamsters problems and "policies of the Interstate Commerce Commission to which they objected."
"Nothing was discussed with them that was improper," Cannon said. "If anyone had tried to illegally influence me, I would have reported it immediately to the authorities." The Senate Ethnic Committee has been examining Cannon's conduct in this incident.
Thursday, a Senate investigating subcommittee urged the Labor Department to force Williams from office unless he answers questions aobut his alleged connections to organized crime. He invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination 23 times last summer when the subcommitt asked similar questions.
Williams, 66, has been indicted three times on federal charges but never convicted. He was named interim head of the Teamsters this month after the death of Frank Fitzsimmons.
Williams becomes the third president of the corruption-plagued union to be indicted. Dave Beck, the Teamsters' boss in the 1050s, was convicted on corruption charges, and Jimmy Hoffa was found guilty of similar charges in the 1960s.