(This article first appeared in Socialist Action newspaper, February 1998.)
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On January 19 (1998) I traveled here to support Teamster President Ron Carey and be an eye witness to his appearance before the Independent Review Board (IRB).
The IRB is the government appointed panel that was set up as part of the 1989 Consent Decree signed by the former corrupt leadership of the Teamsters union. [top officers and the federal government entered into a consent decree, subjecting the union to potentially unending federal oversight so as to avoid possible prosecution on corruption charges of these same officers.]
The board will decide if Carey is to be expelled from the Teamsters union on charges of involvement in illegal fundraising during the union 1996 election campaign. Carey emphatically denies the charges.
In addition to fighting to stay in the Teamsters union, Carey is appealing the decision of election officer and corporate lawyer Kenneth Conboy to rule him off the ballot in the rerun election.
Following Carey’s leadership of the spectacular strike victory against UPS last year, the government seems now to be using this opportunity to punish him for it.
Both Conboy and the IRB hold the position that Carey had knowledge of and was involved in the money-swap scam in 1996. They base their opinion almost exclusively on the unsubstantiated claim of Jere Nash, Carey’s former manager.
Almost all of the Teamsters present at the IRB hearing, especially from Carey’s local, 804, are convinced that the IRB was conducting a kangaroo court. For one thing, Nash, the accuser, was not present in the courtroom to be confronted by Carey and his attorneys.
If this were a hearing before a jury of his peers, Ron Carey would be completely exonerated of all charges against him. He and his legal team presented an overwhelmingly convincing case, and the “evidence” raised against him looked pathetic in comparison.
Carey’s attorneys opened their remarks by stressing that the whole review board’s process, including the hearing, was fundamentally flawed because the IRB’s case and Conboy’s ruling were based on unchallenged and uncorroborated statements by those that can’t be cross-examined. Nash was never cross-examined prior to both Conboy’s or the IRB’s findings being made public.
Carey’s attorneys pointed out to the IRB (as if they didn’t know) that Nash is a convicted felon, and that he pled guilty to providing documents with false claims and to making false statements under oath.
Since his conviction, Nash has agreed to cooperate with the government investigation and prosecution of Carey in return for a lesser sentence in prison. He faces up to 10 years behind bars.
Nash at one time testified that Carey had no knowledge of and did not participate in the illegal money-swap scam. He now self-servingly asserts that Carey did know.
Nash, as was revealed in court on numerous occasions, retained his employment with the November Group, a direct-mail firm, while being employed by the Carey reelection campaign. This fact was not revealed by Nash to Carey or anyone else on Carey’s staff at the time.
The significance of this fact is that Nash had a conflict of interest: He was funneling campaign business to the November Group. The firm paid him $10,000 a month and gave him a $50,000 bonus for these illicit services.
Carey’s attorney revealed to all present the conditions Nash had agreed to in cooperating with the government attack on Carey and the Teamsters’ membership.
Nash was informed that under the U.S. sentencing guidelines it was up to the government to decide if his cooperation is “fruitful” and enough to get results. You don’t get credit unless substantial evidence is provided, and one’s own admissions are not enough.
Nash was asked by the government if he understood this and reportedly responded, “Yes, it’s crystal clear.”
One doesn’t have to be a million-dollar lawyer to figure out that if there are no results or if the government deems Nash’s help unfruitful, then quite possibly there will be no reduction of his prison sentence.
A sordid list of “believers”
Who on earth, under these circumstances, would believe this convicted conman — or believe in this fundamentally tainted process besides the employers? So far, the “believers” include the following sordid list:
The government, which usually tries to convince everyone that it is neutral in the struggle between business and labor, and has abandoned even a pretense of objectivity;
Junior Hoffa and the “old guard” Teamster bureaucrats;
Wannabe union careerists who excel only at pursuing their own personal interests;
A few top Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) leaders who have abandoned the very important democratic principle of “innocent until proven guilty,” as well as the fight for the democratic rights of the Teamsters to select their own leaders.
The IRB must have sensed that its failure to have Nash present to be confronted by Carey would convince the vast majority of workers that the proceedings were a sham. They therefore entertained a request by Carey’s attorneys for the U.S. Attorney in New York to ask that Nash be made available for the board’s hearing and be subject to cross-examination.
Technically, given that Nash is not a Teamster union member, he is not within the IRB’s jurisdiction and cannot be compelled to appear before it.
Yet the IRB (and election officer Conboy) are willing to rule on Carey’s fate nevertheless. This is not justice for the accused, but rather for the employers. The government’s response to Carey’s request was that, on the one hand, it is up to Nash and his attorneys to decide if he will come and thus there is no guarantee he will be produced before the IRB.
On the other hand, according to the government, if Nash does appear at the hearing, the government will decide what if any questions put to him by Carey’s attorneys he will be allowed to answer.
The excuse given for this incredible procedure was that Nash was still involved in the ongoing grand jury investigation of Carey in New York City; therefore, many if not all questions could adversely affect the grand jury. How convenient for the government in its attempt to protect it already flimsy case against Carey!
Susan Davis: Nash lied
Another crucial element used in the case against Carey was the testimony of Carey’s secretary, Monie Simpkins. Simpkins’ claim that on at least one occasion Carey approved some of the $735,000 in contributions to liberal, get-out-the-vote groups was challenged repeatedly by Carey’s defense team.
Susan Davis, an outside lawyer hired by Carey to ensure compliance with the election rules, testified under oath that Monie Simpkins had told her that Nash had discussed large financial payments that he needed approval for and given that Carey was out of town Nash pressed Simpkins to initial documents with an “R.C.”
When Simpkins tried to get a hold of Carey for verification, she was unsuccessful. (Carey, it was reported, often is virtually impossible to reach when he’s on the road.) Nash then told Simpkins that Davis was aware on the payments in question and had approved them.
Then Davis testified that Nash had simply lied. She had no idea of these contributions. Davis also testified that when she told Simpkins that she had not approved of the payments, Simpkins began to cry. Simpkins, Davis testified, under pressure from Nash, signed or initialed the documents without Carey’s knowledge.
Davis recounted how, upon learning of Nash’s unauthorized activities, she went to tell Carey of the events, and when he heard of Nash’s actions, she said, “Carey was in disbelief.”
She also told Carey that the election was in jeopardy and that the government would have to be told. She said, “Carey agreed.”
Davis testified that Carey was surprised when informed of AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Trumka’s alleged donation, which under the election rules is forbidden. She also testified to the fact that she had told Nash that other union officials not in the Teamsters could not contribute to the Carey re-election campaign; that it was Carey’s policy and hers that absolutely no risks were to be taken in regard to the financing of the re-election effort. She emphasized Carey’s “play it clean” approach to the whole campaign.
Finally, Davis told of Carey’s directive to cancel a fundraiser Nash had organized to raise $50,000 in New York City because of the outside chance “employers” might be present.
She also testified to the fact that the first employer donation to Carey’s campaign of $95,000 was solicited by Nash, and that when she found out about it she told Carey.
“Carey was shocked,” she said, and he said that “something has to be done about it.” Carey then immediately directed that the money be returned.
Davis, who worked with Nash during the re-election campaign, also told the IRB that she did not know Nash was employed by the November Group, the direct mail outfit also used by the Carey campaign, and was not aware then of his being paid $10,000 a month and in addition his being slated to receive a $50,000 bonus after the campaign was concluded.
All of Susan Davis’s testimony clearly revealed and verified Carey’s consistent contention that he was a victim of Nash, whose real design in this sordid matter was to line his own pockets with ill-gotten cash.
Theresa Sherman, a 15-year-long employee of the Teamsters union (though not a member) and an office partner and friend of Monie Simpkins, testified unambiguously that on the day Nash pressured Simpkins to authorize the large contributions, Simpkins came crying to Sherman saying that she signed or initialed the payments without Carey’s authorization or knowledge, and exclaimed that she thought she could be in trouble.
Another employee in the same office with Simpkins and Sherman, who processes Carey’s mail, testified that Simpkins approached him also and, in tears, told him the same story Sherman had previously testified to.
Colvert: Carey passed a lie detector
Another key witness in Carey’s defense was former FBI agent Barry Colvert, who served in the bureau for 35 years. The majority of his time in the FBI was spent as an expert lie-detector test analyst and instructor. He now does lie-detector work on his own and is widely regarded as one of the nation’s best in the field.
Colvert, while on the witness stand, described the enormously elaborate equipment set up and preparation involved in getting a reliable reading with the polygraph machine.
He testified that he put to Carey the two crucial questions about his knowledge of and/or participation in the money-swap scheme. Colvert concluded under oath, “I did not find any indication of deception in either of those primary questions.”
In other words, Carey passed the lie-detector test with flying colors. Colvert further stated that “If the readings were close and flat, I would not have rendered that opinion.”
One of the IRB members sitting in judgment of Carey, William Webster, the former director of the FBI, asked Colvert two questions. The first was whether or not these lie-detector tests are only 80 percent effective, clearly implying his displeasure with that rate of accuracy. And the second was if it were not also the case that the polygraph could be fooled by those tested.
Colvert’s response was a classic case of exposing the ignorance of a pretentious know-it-all. He told Webster that the 80 percent accuracy figure may have applied in the past but today with advanced equipment, techniques, and training, it was on the order of 95 percent accurate.
Moreover, Colvert defended his verification procedures while Carey was attached to the lie detector machine by posing questions designed to elicit a response both truthful and false. Colvert indicated under those circumstances it was virtually impossible for deception to have occurred on Carey’s part.
Colvert was cross-examined by the IRB’s chief investigator, Carberry, to the effect that Colvert had no quality control with which to verify his assessment of the results. Colvert offered Carey’s polygraph charts to Carberry, which he had with him in the courtroom, and told Carberry he could take them to the government experts if he wished for independent analysis and verification.
Carberry did not accept the offer, which was clearly a rebuff to his two-bit lawyer’s trick, and sat down looking a tad miffed.
Carey: “A fighting force for workers”
Carey was the last witness called during these proceedings. His attorney had him testify to what motivated him in his union activities. Carey replied that he resented the bad image of the Teamsters, whereby the members came last and they suffered under bad contracts. Carey also said that he wanted the union “to be a fighting force for workers.”
This was a most noteworthy statement that reveals the essential difference between him and virtually all other top officials in the AFL-CIO. In fact, it is what makes him a leader and the rest mere officials. This is also what makes him, and those militant rank and filers he led, a real target of the employers and their government.
The one-day unofficial safety strike Carey called against UPS several years ago, and the most recent UPS strike he led to protect full-time jobs and improve the part-timers’ conditions by reaching out to all American workers for support, marked him for retribution. No other labor official can make the claim Carey did and then back it up in action.
Carey went on to testify under oath that he had absolutely no knowledge of Nash’s money-swap scheme and that had he been made aware of its existence he would have stopped it dead in its tracks.
The chairman of the IRB, former federal judge Lacey, then went on to question Carey’s credibility, saying that his not knowing of the scam Nash conducted was “beyond my comprehension.” That comment, far from being the reaction of an objective listener, was an underhanded attempt by the judge to subvert the overwhelming case in favor of Carey’s innocence. Carey, in fact, responded that it was beyond his comprehension also.
Those government agencies, under the direction of the employers, have shown themselves to be unambiguously on the side of those employers and not merely interested in ensuring that the Teamsters union is free of mob influence. A response by the members is required, not only to defend Carey but equally to defend our democratic right to select the proven leaders of our choice. These issues are two sides of the same coin.
As it looks right now, the government, UPS, the freight companies, the brewers, manufacturers, and all the rest of those that make up corporate America are conducting a one-sided class war. It is high time that the members be rallied to defend their right to choose their own leaders and actively oppose the government dictating who they can and cannot vote for.
The stakes are high
Defending Carey goes hand in hand with this defense of the members’ right to choose their leadership. The two can’t be separated. The stakes are high. Either we have a democratic union, the only kind that can be turned into what Carey and the membership want and need as “a fighting force for workers,” or we’ll end up with what the employers desire, a government-run company union.
It seems to me and many other Teamsters that the most effective way to respond to this attack on our democratic rights and Carey as our leader, is to urge Carey himself to do what he does best: lead us as a “fighting force” by mobilizing the government to back off.
We should say to the government: “Hands off the Teamsters union! Hands off Ron Carey! Hands off the members’ democratic rights! No to government-controlled company unions!”
The potential is ripe for tapping the Teamsters members’ outrage at this government-led attack — and the time is now!
Carey told me in Washington that he will give some thought to the idea of going on the road to mobilize his supporters, who are vast in their numbers.
If the government and employers see Carey once again reaching out to all working people and explaining the significance of the railroad job against him, Teamsters members, and all other union members, the chance of the frame-up succeeding will be diminished greatly — if not reversed.
This anti-labor attack can be stopped in its tracks. It is extremely important we communicate to Carey this message: Ron, we need you to speak out!
Bill Leumer is a member of IBT Local 216 and is a pro-Carey TDU member.