As the Teamsters union Executive Board prepared to choose a successor to President Roy Lee Williams, recently convicted of conspiracy to bribe, word reached here today that a member of the board had just been indicted on federal embezzlement charges in New Jersey.
Salvatore (Sammy Pro) Provenzano, 62, was one of seven top state Teamster officials charged in connection with a scheme to embezzle about $200,000 from a union welfare fund, according to officials.
The 15-count indictment charges that for more than 20 years the Teamsters officials, their friends and relatives and about 20 other union officials received free dental care to which they were not entitled, U.S. Attorney W. Hunt Dumont told reporters in Newark.
Provenzano is an international vice president and a member of the Teamsters Ruling Council, and also is president of Teamsters Local 560 in Union City, N.J.
One of Salvatore Provenzano's brothers, Anthony (Tony Pro) Provenzano, is among those suspected by authorities of being involved in the murder of ex-Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa.
Salvatore Provenzano and another brother, Nunzio, former Local 560 president, who is serving a federal prison term for racketeering, are charged with a count each of conspiracy, mail fraud and accepting kickbacks, Dumont said.
Although an aide attempted to shield him from reporters, Salvatore Provenzano consented to comment on the charges as he entered a closed-door session of the executive board here today.
"I was just told about it . . . so how do you react to it?" he said, visibly agitated.
He knew nothing about the charges, he said, except that they involve "dental work done outside the plan. Dentures . . . the last time I had dental work done outside of fillings was 18 years ago. That's a fact." He said he plans to "plead not guilty and take it from there."
The U.S. attorney's office has waged a campaign to remove top officials of Local 560.
Teamsters Secretary-Treasurer Ray Schoessling, who is presiding until a new leader is chosen Thursday morning, declined comment on the indictment, saying that he had just heard about it.
Asked what impact it might have on Teamsters officials' stated intention of improving the union's image, he said, "I think the image of the Teamsters is all right, I think it's good. I think it will get better as time goes on."
The leading contender for the union's top post is Jackie Presser, 56, head of the Ohio Teamsters.
Presser has tried this week to deflect continuing rumors about his reported links to criminal operations.
Presser expressed confidence that he has the votes to win.
Presser's top priorities as Teamsters president, he said, would be to bring the union in line with "the new America," organizing more aggressively in the emerging technical, public-sector and white-collar fields.
As to reform, he said, "It's not a question of reform, but of complying with the law and running our union the best that we can."