The President's Commission on Organized Crime yesterday publicly criticized Reagan administration "contacts" with Teamsters President Jackie Presser and warned that they could "lead to an erosion of public confidence" in the government's fight against labor racketeering.
The criticisms were expressed in a report on Organized Crime, Business and Labor Unions that Commission Chairman Irving R. Kaufman presented to President Reagan at a brief White House ceremony. The commission's executive director, James D. Harmon, said that more than half the report is being withheld from the public because of a trial in New York and investigations in progress.
The commission said the Federal Bureau of Investigation found in 1983-84 that the Teamsters and three other major unions, the International Longshoremen's Association, the Hotel Employes and Restaurant Employes International Union, and the Laborers International Union, were "substantially influenced and/or controlled by organized crime." In the commission's view, they still are.
To deal with organized crime's exploitation of business and labor, the commission proposed a series of federal task forces "industry by industry," National Labor Relations Board power to decertify mob-dominated unions, and electronic surveillance for criminal violations of antitrust laws.
Criticisms of the administration's ties to Presser, a member of Reagan's 1980 pre-inaugural transition team, came at the end of a section dealing with organized crime's penchant for obtaining political influence.
The report said that even where there are no overt attempts to tamper with the prosecutorial process by using political power, "certain political alliances and well-timed political contributions can create an appearance of impropriety."
"In the current administration," the report said, "the long delays in reaching a resolution of a Department of Justice investigation concerning . . . Presser have led to a similar concern -- whether Presser's support of the administration in the 1980 and 1984 election campaigns influenced the conduct of the investigation."
The commission said it did not look for evidence of wrongdoing in the Presser investigations now under way, but it said it was "convinced that the impact of such contacts between Presser and the administration can lead to an erosion of public confidence and dampen the desire to end racketeering. Organized crime is aware of this and purposefully seeks to cultivate and benefit from political influence."
Harmon told reporters that the panel sought unsuccessfully to have Presser testify, even after he invoked the Fifth Amendment last April in refusing to answer questions about alleged ties between Teamsters officials and organized crime.
A federal grand jury in Cleveland is investigating the circumstances under which the Justice Department last year rejected a recommended prosecution of Presser on charges of embezzling funds from his hometown union local. Justice officials here made the controversial decision amid reports that Presser had been a government informant and that FBI agents might have acquiesced in his use of Teamster funds to ingratiate himself with Cleveland-area mobsters.
Presser's administration ties include a 1980 lunch for Republican candidate Reagan in Ohio hosted by Presser and his late father, William, longtime Ohio Teamsters boss who had been convicted of destroying subpoenaed records and of contempt of Congress. Edwin Meese III, then a top Reagan adviser and now attorney general, said at the time: "We're not about to tell a fellow he can't invite his father to lunch."
Presser also met two hours with White House officials, including then-counselor Meese, in October 1983 to air union complaints about deregulation of trucking.
Harmon repeatedly sidestepped questions yesterday about whether Reagan himself had contributed to "an appearance of impropriety" in the contacts with Presser. "This is not simply a phenomenon limited to this administration," he said. Harmon said the commission has repeatedly warned that lawyers, bankers and businessmen have a choice in deciding whether to deal with organized crime figures. "That choice," he said, "is also available to public officials."