By LARRY NEUMEISTER
August 29, 2001
NEW YORK (AP) - As Ron Carey's perjury trial got underway, two portraits emerged of the former Teamsters president: a hero who cleaned up a mob-infested union - or a man so desperate to keep power that he violated the law.
Carey, 64, is accused of perjury and making false statements during an investigation into how $885,000 in union funds were diverted to his 1996 re-election campaign.
“This is a case about a very important man who had a very important job,” prosecutor Deborah E. Landis said in opening arguments Tuesday. “In order to keep that job, ladies and gentleman, this man committed perjury and he lied repeatedly.”
Defense lawyer Mark J. Hulkower countered in his opening remarks that Carey, a former UPS truck driver who rose through the ranks, was “neither a liar nor a perjurer.”
“He ended years of abuse,” Hulkower said, noting that Carey slashed his own salary, refused to accept cost-of-living increases and became the first union president to ride in the back of a public airplane.
Carey's re-election victory over James P. Hoffa was eventually overturned after investigators found that his campaign had indirectly used union money. Unions are not allowed to use their own money to fund election campaigns.
Carey rose to the Teamsters presidency in 1991 in an election supervised by the Justice Department as a part of a government effort to rid the 1.4-million-member union of mob influence.
But by the time Carey faced re-election, the union was facing a financial crisis; its net worth had fallen from $152 million in 1992 to $16 million at the end of 1996.
The crisis, Landis said, came as Carey's campaign was running out of cash, and unable to counter Hoffa's heavy advertising.
To fight back, Carey hired Jere Nash as campaign manager and did not argue when he was told the campaign could illegally use Teamsters money to pay its expenses, she said.
“The evidence will show that he not only let that happen but that he actually approved it,” Landis said.
After the election, Landis said, Carey lied 63 times in seven different investigations. If convicted, Carey could get up to five years in prison on each of seven counts.
Hulkower spent much of his opening statement attacking Nash's credibility. Pointing to the witness chair, he said Nash “may well be the least reliable person to sit in that seat ever.”
Hoffa - son of Jimmy Hoffa, president of the Teamsters from 1957 to 1971 - lost to Carey by less than 4 percentage points, then defeated Tom Leedham in a re-run election in December 1999.