Kansas City crime boss Nick Civella used the visiting room at Leavenworth federal prison in 1980 to lay plans for electing the next president of the Teamsters union, FBI tapes showed today.

The recordings picked up a steady stream of gangland discussions about the best strategy for Civella's candidate, Roy Lee Williams, to succeed the terminally ill incumbent, Frank Fitzsimmons.

The conversations were guarded, with code names such as "R" for Williams (also known as "Rancher"), "Plug" for longtime Ohio Teamsters chief William Presser, and "Maishe" for Milton J. Rockman, reputed financier of the Cleveland Mafia.

Imprisoned for parole violations, Civella was counting heavily on Rockman -- and through Rockman, on Presser -- to win a consensus in favor of Williams.

"Word should be gotten through Maishe," Civella told his brother, Carl Civella, on Jan. 11, 1980, in the dark-paneled Leavenworth visiting room. "He's gotta make him [Bill Presser] take a position. He may be the key to this guy."

The evidence was introduced here at the trial of Rockman and eight other reputed crime syndicate bosses on charges of skimming hundreds of thousands of dollars from Teamster-financed gambling casinos in Las Vegas.

The tapes dovetail neatly with testimony still to come from the former underboss of the Cleveland Mafia, Angelo Lonardo. Now serving a life sentence for federal drug and conspiracy convictions, Lonardo told the FBI in 1983 that the first he knew of the Mafia's role in electing a Teamsters president was when Rockman told him.

"Rockman advised that he had been to Kansas City and had had a meeting in which a discussion occurred concerning the Cleveland LCN [La Cosa Nostra or Mafia] supporting Roy Williams for the Teamsters presidency," an FBI summary stated.

Rockman, the FBI account said, reportedly told the Kansas City LCN that "he felt that Cleveland controlled Jackie Presser, the then Teamster international vice president." (Now Teamsters president himself, Jackie Presser by then had succeeded to his ailing father's old posts.)

As a result, Lonardo told the FBI, "Rockman suggested that Williams, when elected, should step down as head of the Central States Pension Fund, and allow Jackie Presser to become the head . . . . Kansas City LCN agreed to Presser's getting Roy Williams' position in the Teamsters' Pension Fund."

The deal, if Williams ever agreed to it, was not kept. Williams didn't get along with Jackie Presser and never made the appointment.

The Leavenworth recordings, however, preceded all this. Civella, who died of cancer in 1983, was still casting about for the best way to approach Bill Presser, the tapes show.

"Do you want one of us to go talk to him?" Carl Civella asked.

"No!" his brother replied. "Word should be gotten through Maishe . . . . [We] may have a little problem with the son . . . just can't give him anything he wants . . . . "

Nick Civella seemed confident of Bill Presser. "Fat Guy knows 'R' real well," he told his brother. "And that son, even though they never got along too good, uh, knows the guy."

Bad news came on Feb. 1, 1980. Carl Civella glumly told Nick about a meeting of Teamsters officials at which Fitzsimmons "put his arms around" Secretary-Treasurer Ray Schoessling and announced, "This is my man; this guy's been with me all the time."

As it turned out, Schoessling was never a factor and Roy Williams was elected Teamsters president by acclamation in June 1981, less than two weeks after his indictment on charges of conspiring to bribe a U.S. senator. Following his conviction in December 1982, he was succeeded by Jackie Presser of Cleveland.