The day before Raymond J. Donovan's Senate confirmation hearings began last year, President Reagan's transition team was informed of a "tape recording" linking Donovan's name to "hoodlums" and of a separate allegation that he had gone to the 1979 Super Bowl with a gangland figure.
The Senate Labor Committee, however, did not learn until six months later, long after Donovan was sworn in as labor secretary, that there was any information concerning Donovan and his New Jersey construction company that could be gleaned from a government wiretap.
According to informed sources, the FBI reported several alleged links between Donovan and organized crime figures on Jan. 11, 1981, to White House counsel Fred Fielding, who was then in charge of checking out top appointees for the incoming administration.
The information was furnished by telephone by Anthony Adamski, the FBI official immediately in charge of the Donovan investigation.
For reasons that are not clear, Adamski did not follow up with a written report to the Reagan team. But, sources say, he did sum up the points he made to Fielding in an internal Jan. 12, 1981, FBI memo.
Fielding yesterday said he would not dispute that he had been told of "information picked up by a tape recording" concerning Donovan, and he said he did remember "hoodlums" being mentioned.
But he insisted that it still did not dawn on him that the FBI was talking about a wiretap, and it was clear that he did not ask.
The 1979 FBI tap, it was later disclosed, was directed at William P. Masselli, a reputed member of the Genovese family of the Mafia whose trucking and excavation company had taken over as a subcontractor for Donovan's firm in 1977.
When first asked about the FBI report to him yesterday, Fielding said at first that, "The information was never identified, to my recollection, as (a) that it was a wiretap, or (b) that it had anything to do with Masselli or (c) that it was anything to be concerned about.
"We were focusing on other matters at the time with Donovan," Fielding said.
Sources said, however, that Adamski's report, as reflected in his Jan. 12 memo, alluded to two items:
A conversation between Masselli and his son, Nat, about an invitation to fly up to an unidentified social event in the same plane with Donovan and his partner, Ronald Schiavone, the president of Schiavone Construction Co. of Secaucus, N.J. In the citing of this exchange, sources said, Fielding was told that it came from "a tape recording," but that while "hoodlums" were mentioned Masselli's name was not.
A separate allegation from an FBI informer that Donovan had gone to Miami with Masselli for the 1979 Super Bowl weekend there. In summarizing this allegation for Fielding, sources said, Masselli's name was mentioned explicitly.
Fielding indicated that he might have lumped both reports together.
"I remember the allegation that he Donovan had been invited to or went to the Super Bowl," Fielding said. "Maybe in my mind, I was mixing the two."
Donovan first testified before the Senate Labor Committee on Jan. 12, 1981, when the main issue was whether Schiavone Construction had bought labor peace with the Teamsters union in 1978 by putting a ghost foreman on a New York subway project payroll.
At a later hearing, Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) evidently was apprised of allegations that Donovan might have "socialized" with Masselli and that Donovan had been "associating with mobsters at one of the NFL football games."
Donovan denied any "socializing," and the FBI could not corroborate the Super Bowl allegation. But FBI Executive Assistant Director Francis M. (Bud) Mullen went much further, claiming in Senate testimony that the bureau had "proven it to be incorrect."
Since then, the allegations have come under fresh scrutiny by special prosecutor Leon Silverman, who, sources say, has found repeated references to "Ray" Donovan and references to other Schiavone officials on the Masselli tapes.
At last year's hearings, by contrast, Hatch asked this sweeping question: whether it was correct that the bureau had examined "every one" of its organized crime wiretaps and "found absolutely nothing pertaining to Schiavone Construction."
"That is correct, Senator," Mullen replied. "In each case, when we do have a court-authorized wiretap, we must record the identity of every individual or company referred to. We maintained those records, known as overhears, and we located no reference to Mr. Donovan or Schiavone Construction."
Still other allegations concerning Donovan and talk of bid-rigging in New Jersey also came to light only recently after being buried in FBI files in Newark.
In the wake of that furor FBI Director William H. Webster has moved Adamski and his immediate superior at the time, Joseph P. Schulte, to other positions.