A federal judge in Kansas City yesterday postponed a subpoena for Teamsters union President Jackie Presser to testify at the trial of five reputed midwestern crime bosses after Presser sent word that he would invoke the Fifth Amendment if forced to appear.
Presser, who pledged to run "an open, honest administration" when elected to head the union in 1983, was served the subpoena by federal marshals late Thursday after privately hired process servers said they had been unable to do so.
U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Stevens Jr. signed a special order authorizing service by the special team of marshals after lawyers for reputed Chicago Mafia underboss Jackie Cerone submitted an affidavit attesting to their frustration.
"He travels with a couple of bodyguards," Cerone's Chicago attorney, Joseph DiNatale, told a reporter yesterday. "We tried to serve Presser in Washington, Florida, Cleveland and Los Angeles when he came back from a trip to Japan . . . . We began to get the impression he was avoiding us."
Presser has been sought as a defense witness since Dec. 13 to respond to former Cleveland Mafia underboss Angelo Lonardo's account of a mob scheme to secure Presser's election.
Testifying as a government witness, Lonardo, 74, said he helped persuade Chicago's top Mafia leaders to support Presser's 1983 bid.
Lonardo said lobbying for Presser as "Cleveland's guy" occurred in a Chicago hotel in anticipation of the ouster of then-Teamsters president Roy Lee Williams of Kansas City. Williams was convicted in December 1982 of conspiring to bribe a U.S. senator.
According to Lonardo, the Chicago mob leaders with whom he dealt -- acting boss Joseph Aiuppa and Cerone -- were reluctant to support Presser at first, with Cerone saying he "had information that Jackie Presser was no good."
To that, Lonardo said his companion on the trip, Milton (Maishe) Rockman, a longtime friend of Presser's father, Ohio Teamsters boss William Presser, responded: " 'Don't believe what you hear. I can handle him.' "
In deciding to subpoena Presser, DiNatale said he expected Presser to say that he did not know Aiuppa or Cerone "and that they had nothing to do with him becoming president of the Teamsters union."
Presser has been dogged for months by publicity about his alleged status as an FBI informant for 15 years, which he has denied. According to several sources, Presser's lawyer, John Climaco, told Judge Stevens yesterday that his client was quite "reluctant to testify" and would invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, if necessary.
Rather than have Presser appear Monday, the judge plans to arrange a conference call between Climaco and attorneys in the case to see if Presser should be required to appear later in the week.
The five remaining defendants on trial, including Cerone, Aiuppa and Rockman, have been accused of skimming more than $2 million from Las Vegas casinos financed by the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund.