Federal prosecutors in Cleveland have sent a long-delayed "prosecution memorandum" to the Justice Department formally recommending that Teamsters Union President Jackie Presser be charged with defrauding his hometown union local, the Times has learned.
Sources familiar with the case said the 100-page memo had been delayed for months by Justice Department requests for more information about a Presser associate who figures in the investigation.
The document, the sources said, is based on a three-year investigation into allegations that Presser fraudulently approved payment of more than $250,000 from his Cleveland local's treasury to "ghost employes" -- cronies who performed no work for the union. The payments allegedly occurred before he was elected to head the 1.9 million-member union in 1983.
Justice Department officials are understood to have told the Cleveland strike force, which consists of prosecutors and Labor Department investigators, that a decision on prosecuting Presser and two associates will be made by March. The associates are Harold Friedman, a Teamsters International vice president, and Tony Hughes, one of the alleged ghost employes, said the sources, who spoke on condition that they not be identified.
Justice Department spokesman Thomas P. DeCair declined to comment yesterday. Presser's attorney, John R. Climaco of Cleveland, and Michael Climaco, representing Hughes, did not return phone messages.
Robert J. Rotatori, Friedman's lawyer, said yesterday, "If the Justice Department adopts the charges in the prosecution memorandum, I am convinced Mr. Friedman will be exonerated at trial."
The Presser case could present a ticklish political problem for President Reagan's top appointees at the Justice Department because Presser has been Reagan's chief supporter in organized labor and even served last month as co-chairman of the labor committee for Reagan's second inauguration.
Vice President George Bush went to Teamsters headquarters here Jan. 16 to attend the union's general executive board meeting and thank its leaders for supporting the Reagan-Bush ticket in the 1984 election, according to F. Duke Zeller, the union's chief spokesman.
Reasons for the unusual length of the Presser probe are subjects of dispute inside the Justice Department. Investigators and attorneys in the strike force cite questions raised by David Margolis, chief of the department's organized crime and racketeering section, which oversees strike-force activities.
But in Washington, officials contend that Margolis' request for "dotting every 'i' twice" amounted only to normal precautions in an especially sensitive case.