Former Teamsters union President Roy L. Williams testified today that he felt "intimidated" by the late Kansas City crime boss Nick Civella and did not want to cross him for fear of being killed.
Testifying at the casino-skimming trial of nine reputed midwestern Mafia leaders and their associates, Williams blurted out his fears during cross-examination on the issue of Teamsters financing for the casinos. He said he was tired of defense attorneys constantly depicting him and Civella as close friends who got along well.
Williams' outburst occurred during questioning by Glenn Reynolds, attorney for reputed Milwaukee crime boss Frank Balistrieri, and was one of those classic moments in a courtroom trial when the lawyers for one side are left on the ropes, wondering what happened.
"Let me tell you something," Williams said in an exasperated tone, "You fellas, all you defense lawyers, are trying every way you can to make me a personal friend of Nick Civella.
"Nick Civella was a good friend of mine, but he also intimidated me."
Reynolds tried to recover, but unaccountably wound up asking Williams if he had not also told the Federal Bureau of Investigation that he considered Civella "a scary person."
"Yes sir, I did," Williams replied. "And I was afraid, too. After reading in the papers of what happens to people in different parts of the country and having a member of the Teamsters coming in laying under the trunk of a car and another laying on his father's grave, he was intimidating me. And I was afraid of him, yes sir."
The references apparently were to Nick Spero, a Kansas City truck driver whose body was found in the trunk of his car in the 1960s; and Sam Palma, who was shot in the back of the head and tossed on top of his father's grave during gangland strife here in the early 1960s.
The cross-examination also produced unexpected references to Jackie Presser, said to be a longtime government informant, who was elected Teamsters president following Williams' conviction in Chicago in 1982 of conspiring to bribe a U.S. senator.
Williams, 70, was reminded that a Milwaukee-based trustee for the union's Central States Pension Fund has never been indicted or convicted of a crime.
"I know a lot of people," Williams shot back in so-what tones. "Jackie Presser hasn't been indicted or convicted either."
In a related development, it was confirmed that Williams told a presidential commission on organized crime that Presser offered to fix a criminal case against Williams years ago for $10,000.
In a 57-page deposition, disclosed this weekend by the Chicago Tribune, Williams was vague about which case he was talking about. He has been indicted four times in his Teamsters career but, according to informed sources, Williams said Presser made the offer about six-to-eight weeks before the case was to come to trial.
According to one source, Williams said Presser told him he had "a friend" in the Justice Department. Williams reportedly decided not to make the $10,000 payment, electing to go to trial, where he was acquitted.
Struggling to avoid a 10-year federal prison term set to start next month, the ailing Williams says he began talking candidly to the FBI in September, after lying to agents and frustrating their efforts for more than 20 years to make him a government informant.
"Did you feel the pressure to come up with something good?" Reynolds asked.
"I decided I would come up with the truth that I had been withholding for many years," Williams responded. "I'm 70 years old, sir, and when you get on the dark side of the cloud, you see things a little differently."