Robert Rispo, describing himself as a former union "goon" and "leg-breaker," told the President's Commission on Organized Crime today that he once carried an "envelope of money" from a corrupt labor leasing firm to Teamsters union President Jackie Presser.
Presser appeared before the commission later and refused to answer questions, invoking constitutional protections against self-incrimination 15 times.
Rispo, a gravel-voiced former labor leasing official, said that in the 1970s, he carried the envelope from his boss, Eugene Boffa Sr., to Presser, who was then an Ohio Teamsters member attending a union meeting in Columbus.
"[Boffa] told me it was money for Jackie," Rispo testified. "I want you to give this to Jackie," he quoted Boffa as telling him when Rispo received the envelope.
"I never opened it," said Rispo, adding that it was one of "two envelopes of money" he delivered for Boffa.
One went to Presser, Rispo said, and the other to another Teamster leader, Robert Strickland.
Rispo wore a black hood and robe to protect his identity as he testified during the commission's second day of hearings on labor racketeering. With further hearings scheduled Wednesday, the commission recessed after Presser's appearance to consider whether it would seek to compel him to testify.
Presser, the object of a federal probe into allegations that he defrauded a Cleveland union local of more than $250,000, was one of organized labor's staunchest supporters of President Reagan in the 1984 election.
Rispo, Boffa Sr., Robert Boffa and Frank Sheran, a former Teamsters local president in Wilmington, Del., were convicted of organized crime and mail fraud charges several years ago in connection with the labor leasing scheme.
According to Rispo, who pleaded guilty and testified against the others, the scheme's victims were Teamsters drivers. He said the scheme worked this way:
He or another "free-lance organizer" for the leasing firm would pick out a small, private company with a few drivers, move in and tell the company that the leasing firm could handle their drivers and guarantee trouble-free labor relations.
The leasing firm was one of dozens set up by the Boffas, who had ties to organized crime, Rispo said. The firms -- many of them called Countrywide Personnel -- took fees of 7 to 10 percent of the gross payroll for a company's drivers and negotiated a cheaper labor contract with the connivance of the local leadership and the blessings of corrupt national or regional Teamster officials.
"Everybody benefited except the union members," Rispo said.
He said the leasing companies prospered until the late 1970s, when media attention focused on relations between the Boffas and known organized crime figures. But several Boffa leasing operations reamin active, he said.
The president of one, Samuel Solomon of Employers Resources Inc., testified that he received numerous collect telephone calls from Robert Boffa on how to run the company after Boffa was sent to jail.
Boffa, recently paroled, appeared at the hearing today and was dismissed when he invoked the Fifth Amendment.
Rispo said the various leasing firms at one time handled labor contracts for about 2,000 drivers. The Teamsters is the nation's largest union, with about 1.5 million members.