A convicted Cleveland mobster said in federal court here today that he helped persuade Chicago's top Mafia leaders to support Jackie Presser's 1983 successful bid to become head of the Teamsters Union.
Angelo Lonardo, 74, former underboss of the Cleveland Mafia, said the lobbying took place in a Chicago hotel in anticipation of the ouster of then-president Roy Lee Williams.
Now serving a 103-year prison term, but hoping for parole for his cooperation, Lonardo was vague about the time of the meeting with acting Chicago Mafia boss Joey Aiuppa and his underboss, Jackie Cerone.
At first, under cross-examination that started Monday, the witness said it was after Williams' conviction in December 1982 for conspiring to bribe a U.S. senator, but under further questioning, he said it could have been earlier.
In any case, Lonardo said, "the groundwork was being laid out" for Williams' replacement and Presser was "Cleveland's guy."
While the testimony today established a Mafia attempt to influence the choice of the Teamsters president, no evidence was offered as to the effect of that attempt, whether it actually played a significant role in the election. Teamsters spokesmen were unavailable for comment after the testimony today.
Lonardo, who admitted involvement in at least seven Cleveland murders in response to other questions, said he was accompanied on the trip by Milton (Maishe) Rockman, reputed financier of the Cleveland mob and its liaison with the Teamsters.
At the meeting, Lonardo said, "We discussed about Jackie Presser running for president. That we would like to see him get in."
At first, Lonardo testified, Aiuppa and Cerone "didn't like the idea. They had their own man, Ray Schoessling, who they wanted to get in there." Schoessling was then the Teamsters Union's secretary-treasurer.
At one point, according to Lonardo, "Jackie Cerone says he had information that Jackie Presser was no good." To that, Lonardo said, Maishe Rockman, a friend of Presser's father, Ohio Teamsters boss Bill Presser, responded:
" 'Don't believe what you hear. I can handle him.' "
Lonardo said the Chicagoans made no immediate commitment, but "the next day, they had someone call Maishe and they said they would go for Jackie Presser."
Presser was elected Teamsters president at a union executive board meeting in April 1983 with a pledge to clean up the Teamsters' mob-scarred image. Williams had been forced to step down shortly before that under the pressure of a provisional 55-year prison sentence that had been imposed March 31.
Lonardo, now living in hotels under protective FBI custody despite his 103-year sentence, has also told authorities that the Cleveland mob is controlled by the Genovese crime family of New York.
He has also told the Federal Bureau of Investigation that after the Chicago meeting to promote Presser, he and Rockman made a trip to New York to see Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno, reputed head of the Genovese crime family, on Presser's behalf, at a Harlem card shop.
"When they met with Fat Tony in the card shop on 116th street," the FBI summary stated, "Tony told them he would support Presser for president because Tony wanted to put someone in as president that they knew."
Lonardo testified at the trial of Aiuppa, Cerone, Rockman and several others on charges of skimming millions of dollars from a string of Teamster-financed casinos in Las Vegas. Defense lawyers assailed him in turn as a lying murderer.
"Did you or did you not tell the FBI that you are a killer?" defense lawyer Louis Carbonaro asked Lonardo at one point.
"I don't believe I told him that."
Carbonaro responded with a recitation of some seven murders since the late 1920s that Lonardo had admitted or approved. Carbonaro asked Lonardo why he couldn't remember telling the FBI he was a killer.
"You make it sound like I was doing it every second," Lonardo said.
"No, not every second," Carbonaro shot back. "Just once in a while."