Teamsters President Jackie Presser lived a double life as he rose through the union's ranks: one as a government informer and another as a Teamsters official with a widespread reputation for being under the thumb of the mob, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.
Some of the records are public, some still highly confidential. They include testimony before the President's Commission on Organized Crime and other investigative bodies, trial testimony, Federal Bureau of Investigation reports and summaries of still secret Internal Revenue Service intelligence files that were sealed with wax and tucked into a safe years ago.
All are being churned up as a consequence of the Justice Department's controversial decision last year not to indict Presser on charges of embezzling Teamster funds from his home town Cleveland local. He escaped prosecution for using the money to pay "ghost employes," reportedly on the grounds that he had also done service as an FBI informer and that his FBI handlers had sanctioned the payroll padding. Now it seems that the indictment may be back on track and some FBI agents in jeopardy for taking Presser's side in the dispute.
The scrapping of the proposed indictment has spawned a series of investigations into what Jackie Presser did for the government and what the government did for him. Several sources said they think that Presser got the better of the deal.
While details of the story are far from complete, available records suggest that it began in 1972. In that year, Jackie Presser, along with his father, William, for many years one of the most powerful people in the scandal-ridden union, and Teamsters then-President Frank E. Fitzsimmons, became informers for the IRS.
The three, the records show, offered to supply incriminating information about rivals in the Teamsters union. Their aim was to persuade the Justice Department -- through the IRS intermediaries -- to drop a pending indictment against William Presser, then the Ohio Teamsters boss and International Executive Board member, that could have forced him from his union offices.
"Both Pressers and Fitzsimmons desired to trade the case against William Presser " for information that could lead to another case "against anyone that the DOJ Department of Justice agreed was important," a government summary of the dealings stated. Several men, including Teamsters ex-president Jimmy Hoffa and Hoffa ally Harold Gibbons, then a Teamsters vice president, were offered as a "target for exchange." Hoffa had been released from prison a few months earlier and was beginning to make noises about attempting to get back the presidency.
The IRS men who dealt with Fitzsimmons and the Pressers were two Los Angeles-based Intelligence Division agents, John Daley and Gabriel Dennis. Introductions were provided by Harry Hall, a West Coast con man, Teamsters functionary and veteran IRS informer.
According to the summaries of these dealings, compiled years later by the FBI, the Justice Department was contacted about the "target for exchange" proposition but officials procrastinated.
By the fall of 1972, Fitzsimmons became exasperated and said he had gotten White House aide Charles W. Colson to arrange a meeting with President Richard M. Nixon in the White House late that year.
The IRS men saw Jackie Presser shortly thereafter, according to the records. Daley and Dennis flew to Miami on a crowded flight the day after the 1973 Superbowl in Los Angeles to contact their informers at the winter conference of the Teamsters union. They found two of their tipsters in the lobby of the Diplomat Hotel. One was Hall; the other was Jackie Presser.
"Daley recalled Jackie Presser mentioning his father's case, and recalls him saying that the judge on the bench was going to disqualify himself," one FBI report stated. Later, after a Teamsters dance, Presser brought Fitzsimmons to see the IRS agents, then left.
According to the IRS agents, Fitzsimmons told them he had complained directly to Nixon about the William Presser case and that the president summoned Attorney General Richard G. Kleindienst and told him "he did not want Fitzsimmons' friends having any problems."
(The alleged meeting has never been officially confirmed although there seems no doubt that Fitzsimmons claimed it had taken place. Nixon's office did not respond to repeated telephone calls about the matter. Kleindienst denied that Nixon told him to take care of Fitzsimmons and his friends. Colson doubted Fitzsimmons would have approached Nixon directly although, Colson said, "Fitzsimmons did ask me several times to check into various Teamster individuals who were being investigated and prosecuted . . . . I would routinely write a note to [White House counsel] John Dean and say, 'Would you check into it?' ")
Nothing came of the "target for exchange" deal, perhaps, sources said, because of the growing pressures on the Nixon administration from the Watergate scandal. The Pressers reportedly produced some information about one of their candidates for prosecution, Harold Gibbons, but this was dismissed at the Justice Department as old stuff and "worthless."
The case against William Presser, however, turned out to be weak. In June 1973, he was tried and acquitted. The presiding judge, Donald Young, directed a verdict of not guilty after presentation of the government's evidence.
The IRS relationship, according to the records, included meetings between the agents and their informers in Los Angeles; La Costa, Calif.; Las Vegas; Miami; Cleveland, and Washington. But it apparently ended in 1974 when Hall was tried for possession of stolen Treasury bonds.
The IRS men were told to dissociate themselves from Hall, who, sources say, was usually "the conduit" for contacts with the Teamsters. Eventually, sources said, Daley and Dennis were also asked to surrender their informer reports, some 500 pages thick, which were carefully wrapped in heavy paper, closed with sealing wax and consigned to an IRS safe in Washington.
Bits and pieces of the Teamster dealings with the government have surfaced periodically, beginning with a New York Times account in 1975, but Justice Department officials said the allegations were all based on statements by Hall and thus not to be taken "seriously."
By then, it appears, Jackie Presser had become an FBI informer. The "ghost employes" he was almost indicted for subsidizing with union funds included one whose no-show paychecks -- reportedly sanctioned by the FBI -- dated back to 1972.
Other records reflect the other side of Presser's double life: His alleged connection with the Mafia:
*In December 1975, a New Jersey state police officer stepped into the Roman Forum, a private club inside a West Paterson, N.J., Teamsters local, and arrested a man named Comillo Molinaro on a felony warrant. The officer, Detective Sgt. Robert T. Bucino, later testified that Molinaro was so anxious to avoid being booked that he began talking in hope of striking a deal.
Molinaro, Bucino said, told him he was a Mafia "soldier" from Cleveland and that he had influence there, particularly when it came to obtaining loans from "the Teamsters' pension plan." Applicants, Bucino said Molinaro told him, would have to be recommended by a Mafia member or associate and then Molinaro "would contact his source . . . a Mr. Jack Presser . . . . He described Mr. Presser as an underling of President Fitzsimmons . . . out of Cleveland."
According to Bucino's testimony before the State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation, Molinaro then cited an instance "where he just received front money of $150,000 for such a loan." Molinaro reportedly said he split the money with two Teamsters officials and Simone DeCavalcante, head of the New Jersey Mafia family under whose wing Molinaro was then plying his trade.
*Aladena James Fratianno, once the highest-ranking Mafia member to become a government witness, testified at a 1980 federal trial in San Francisco that "Jackie Presser, he told me himself that 'I don't do nothing unless Blackie tells me' . . . . Blackie the late James Licavoli is the boss of La Cosa Nostra in Cleveland, Ohio."
*An admitted killer who turned government informer in 1978, Fratianno added more detail in a 1981 appearance before the Pennsylvania Crime Commission.
Q. "Could you detail for us, as much as you can, the ways in which organized crime was helpful in terms of assisting Mr. Presser in his career?"
Fratianno: ". . . This goes way back, you know . . . . See, Bill Presser, I knew Bill Presser when he was working with jukeboxes . . . . And when his father retired, they put Jackie Presser in there. Well, his father told him what he's got to do.
"See, there's a man in Cleveland that handles Jackie Presser . . . whenever I wanted to see him, we'd go through this, this fellow in Cleveland, a guy by the name of Rockland. Maishe is his name . . . . I forget his last name.
"But now you asked how they get involved with the Teamsters . . . . How do you think Hoffa got in there? Because his name is Hoffa? I introduced Hoffa to Joe Blimpobo, one of the heads of La Cosa Nostra in Chicago . . . . This was in 1952 during the convention at the Statler Hotel in Los Angeles . . . . The following five years, Hoffa got to be president . . . .
"It's the same way with these international vice presidents. Look at Roy Williams. Do you think he's there because his name is Roy Williams? . . . . I know who runs Roy Williams. They all have a man. They all have somebody that looks after them. And in return they got to give some favors . . . . You know, I'm just trying to explain to you how these things work . . . . He Jackie Presser has an obligation. And he knows that without them people, he wouldn't last two minutes in the Teamsters union."
*Robert Rispo, who began his Teamster career as a self-described "goon" and "leg-breaker," told the President's Commission on Organized Crime at an April 1985 hearing in Chicago that he once delivered an "envelope" to Jackie Presser from the head of a corrupt labor leasing firm that paid Teamster truck drivers below-scale rates and in effect rented them to employers for a fee.
Rispo said his boss, Eugene Boffa, who was later sentenced to 20 years in prison for the scheme, sent him to Columbus, Ohio, in the mid-'70s to take care of a problem and, in the process, "he said, 'I want you to give this to Jackie Presser, all right?' . . . . He told me it was money to give to Jackie' . . . . I never opened the envelope."
*The former underboss of the Cleveland Mafia, Angelo Lonardo, told the FBI in 1983 that the first he knew of the mob's involvement in Teamsters' elections was when his brother-in-law, Milton (Maishe) Rockman, told him about it.
Lonardo, who turned government witness in hope of shedding a 103-year prison term, said the revelation by Rockman, the reputed financier of the Cleveland mob, came when Fitzsimmons was dying. Kansas City crime boss Nick Civella was lobbying for the election of Roy Williams and the "Kansas City LCN needed the support of various Teamster delegates throughout the United States," Lonardo told the FBI. "Rockman," Lonardo continued, "felt that Cleveland controlled Jackie Presser."
Later, when Williams was facing trial and conviction in Chicago for conspiring to bribe a U.S. senator, Lonardo said he and Rockman trooped to Chicago and persuaded Chicago's top Mafia leaders to support Presser's election. Lonardo said the Chicagoans, Joey Aiuppa and Jackie Cerone, indicated that they didn't trust Presser, but, Rockman, a longtime friend of William Presser, responded: " 'Don't believe what you hear. I can handle him.' "
Fitzsimmons and William Presser died in 1981, but Jackie Presser kept climbing until he was elected Teamster president in 1983. What information Jackie Presser might have provided the FBI over the years remains unknown, but Vito Mango, a former Teamster official from Columbus who clashed with the Pressers, once publicly blamed his legal problems on them.
According to a 1976 article in Columbus Monthly magazine, Mango said he tape-recorded a conversation with William Presser in which Presser told him: "You better not be anywhere in Columbus where we can find you . . . . Your next stop will be the Labor Department, the Justice Department and Internal Revenue."
Mango said FBI agents showed up about as week later. He was subsequently indicted and convicted of embezzling union funds.
In addition, several sources said they are convinced that Jackie Presser told the FBI of a crucial episode in the bribery-conspiracy case that led to the December 1982 conviction of his longtime Teamsters rival, Roy Williams. Found guilty of conspiring to bribe then-Sen. Howard W. Cannon (D-Nev.), Williams was forced to step down as Teamsters president a few months later and Presser was elected to succeed him.
Just before he went to prison last December, Williams said in an interview with CBS News that he had once spoken to Presser about reports that he had been a government informer.
"He said, 'I'm a snitch, so what?' " Williams recalled. "Jackie told me this."