NEW YORK, JUNE 1 -- Former Teamsters President Roy L. Williams testified today that he and his successor, current president Jackie Presser, were closely tied to Mafia leaders because "organized crime was filtered into the Teamsters Union."
Williams, who was convicted of attempted bribery in 1982, testified on videotape from his prison cell in Springfield, Mo. He described a long association with Mafia figures to jurors in the trial of Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno and 10 associates. The defendants are charged with various acts of business and labor corruption, including allegations that Salerno controlled Presser's 1983 election as Teamsters chief.
Williams, in the most detailed account of union corruption he has ever given, said that the late James R. Hoffa, a former Teamsters leader who disappeared and was presumed murdered in 1975, told him more than 30 years ago to follow the instructions of Nicholas Civella, who was then reputedly the crime boss of Kansas City.
He said Civella, who died in 1982, instructed him in turn to give his vote to Ohio Teamsters leader Bill Presser to get Mafia-related loans approved for the Stardust casino in Las Vegas from the billion-dollar Teamsters Central States pension fund. Presser, who died in 1981, was Jackie Presser's father.
As a trustee of the pension fund along with Bill Presser, Williams said that in 1974 he began receiving envelopes containing $1,500 from Civella each month. Under pressure from Congress and the U.S. Department of Labor, the fund was reorganized in 1977, the trustees were forced out and independent investment advisers were installed to make all loan decisions.
Williams said that Civella met with him regularly over the years, often placing Mafia associates or their relatives in Teamsters posts in the Midwest, and that he was instrumental in getting Williams elected union president in 1981. He said Civella telephoned other Mafia leaders around the country, asking them to get Teamsters delegates in their cities to support Williams.
Although Williams sometimes felt ill-prepared, he said that Civella assured him: "You can handle it. We're going to do everything we can to get you elected."
A previous government witness, former Cleveland mobster Angelo A. Lonardo, testified that Salerno and Chicago Mafia leaders Joey Aiuppa and Jackie Cerone agreed to help get Williams elected. Lonardo said the same group threw their support behind Jackie Presser in 1983 after Williams, 72, resigned after being convicted in 1982 of trying to bribe former Sen. Howard Cannon (D-Nev.). Cannon was not accused of wrongdoing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark R. Hellerer asked Williams if Jackie Presser ever said "anything to you about his ties to organized crime."
"Yes," said Williams. "He said that he could handle any problem through the group in Cleveland if we just let him know it, that he had friends -- ties -- with the group in Cleveland."
Williams said that such was the language of the Mafia, that no one ever used words like "crime" or "Mafia."
Williams, who suffers from emphysema, was deemed too ill to be brought to New York from his jail cell. He testified on the tape while drawing oxygen through plastic tubes in his nose, often becoming short of breath and asking for breaks.
Granted immunity from further prosecution for what he might say, he acknowledged that he hoped prosecutors might recommend an early parole from his 10-year sentence if his testimony proves useful to them.
Near the conclusion of his testimony, over the objections of defense attorneys, he blurted out:
"I think that organized crime was filtered into the Teamsters Union a long time before I came there, and it'll be there a long time after I'm gone."END NOTES