Teamster Corruption and the Consent Decree

November 28, 2008: In 1989, top Teamster leaders agreed to create the Independent Review Board, a body that investigates and polices corruption in our union.

In 1988, the federal government filed a racketeering lawsuit and tried to put our entire International Union under government trusteeship.

Teamsters for a Democratic Union launched a campaign to stop the trusteeship and instead give Teamster members the power to reform our own union by winning the right to vote for International Union officers.

Our campaign—No Mob Control, No Government Control, Right to Vote—won the day.

Top Teamster leaders settled the lawsuit by signing a deal with the government called the consent degree, which adopted TDU’s proposal for one-member, one-vote elections.

The International Union also agreed to the creation of the Independent Review Board to investigate and remove corruption from our union.

Here are answers to frequent questions Teamster ask about the IRB and the consent decree.

Q: What is the IRB? The Independent Review Board (IRB) is a body our union agreed to set up to investigate and remove corruption from our union.

The IRB was created after the 1989 consent decree that ended the government’s racketeering suit against the top Teamster leadership of the time.

Q: Who is on the IRB? There are three members of the IRB, one appointed by the International Union, one appointed by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and one chosen jointly.

The current three members of the IRB were chosen in 2001.

Hoffa appointed Joseph diGenova, a conservative Republican attorney and former President Reagan appointee.

The U.S. Attorney chose Benjamin Civiletti, who was the Attorney General under President Carter.

Civiletti and diGenova picked William Webster, the former director of the FBI and the CIA, for the third spot.

There is also an investigative team headed by Chief Investigator Charles Carberry, who brings matters before the board.

Q: What can the IRB do? And what can’t it do? The IRB has the power to investigate (including questioning members under oath, examining financial records, etc.) and to make recommendations to the union for charges against officials.

The most serious punishment the IRB can hand out is expulsion from the Teamsters Union; it has no power to bring criminal charges.

The IRB can also recommend that the International Union place a local union in trusteeship.

If the International Union ignores an IRB recommendation, or declines to take appropriate action, the IRB can hold hearings and hand out punishment.

The IRB has no power over running or managing our union. It cannot influence contract bargaining, grievance procedures, pension benefits, political endorsements, officers’ salaries or financial priorities.

Q: What has the IRB done, and what could it do better? IRB actions have led to discipline (suspension, returned funds, and expulsions) of over 600 Teamsters. These decisions are posted at www.irbcases.org.

In 2008, for example, IRB investigations led to the removal of two officials of the International Union. Don Hahs, the President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLET) Teamster unit, was caught embezzling union funds via union-paid trips for his wife, season tickets to the Cleveland Cavs, and more. Hahs repaid $44,963 and was removed from office.

International Vice President Frank Gillen was kicked out for lying under oath about his association with ousted Teamster official Thomas Ryan.

IRB action in 2008 also led to the current trusteeship of Chicago Local 714, a local run by three generations of the Hogan family.

The IRB has come under fire for doing too little to protect members’ democratic rights while devoting resources on investigating Teamster officials who are in contact with persons who have been expelled from our union. Such contact is forbidden.

Q: How much does all of this cost our union? The cost for the investigations and IRB members is about $3 million per year. Teamsters pay about $800 million per year in dues.

The three members of the IRB are each paid $100,000 per year. The staff investigators are paid $84,000 per year. Charles Carberry’s law firm, which provides facilities, support and direction to the investigators, was paid $694,000 last year.

The Hoffa administration often complains about the cost of the consent decree. But these costs include the cost of holding International Union elections and elections for delegates. There is widespread concern that Hoffa’s real goal is to eliminate these elections altogether.

Protecting fair and independently supervised elections for International Union officers is a top priority of TDU.

Q: Didn’t Hoffa promise to get rid of the IRB? After Hoffa took office in 1999, he appointed Ed Stier to head up Project RISE, an internal union anti-corruption task force.

The goal of Project RISE was to take the place of the IRB. But in April 2004, Ed Stier resigned along with his staff, stating that, “My problem is with one man: Jim Hoffa.”

Stier said Hoffa was blocking their investigation into connections between organized crime and Teamster officials in Chicago—especially John Coli, the head of Local 727 and Joint Council 25. Coli is now an International Vice President.

Hoffa’s goal of ending the consent decree was put on hold.

Q: Can Hoffa get rid of the IRB? Not on his own. The International Union would have to convince federal judge Loretta Preska to do that. The only effective route would be to convince the U.S. Attorney that the union is policing itself.

The International Union sought commitments from candidates, including President-elect Obama, that they would consider ending the consent order.

Ending the consent order, without further changes to the Teamster Constitution, would affect something much larger than the IRB: our right to have impartially supervised elections for International officers.

The future of the consent order will not be decided by President Obama, but the President appoints the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who would have such power.

Q. How do I contact the IRB regarding possible corruption? You can contact the IRB hotline at 800-225-5472, or call 212-635-0202. Be forewarned that they will not generally tell a member what or whom they are investigating.

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