The Washington Post

Testifying Publicly, Carey Blames Aides for Teamsters Campaign Irregularities

By Frank Swoboda

Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, January 22, 1998

Publicly testifying under oath for the first time since the start of the campaign finance scandal that has rocked the nation's largest trade union, Teamsters President Ron Carey yesterday denied any wrongdoing, portraying himself as a leader who trusted those around him and is now paying the price.

Testifying before the three-member Independent Review Board, which is considering his ouster from the union, Carey said he was a "bottom-line" kind of guy who spent much of his time out on the road and didn't want to be bothered with a lot of bureaucratic details. "I viewed my job as not just sitting in my office. That's a waste," Carey said. "I reserve for myself the high-priority areas."

Carey, who will resume his testimony under cross-examination today, sounded as though he were still on the campaign stump for much of his time in the witness box. His attorney, Reid Weingarten, gently led him through the highlights of his five-year term as Teamsters president.

The 61-year-old union leader told how he had spent his entire professional life in the Teamsters, working his way up from shop steward to international president. He told how he had rid the union of "the luxury and all the perks" enjoyed by past leaders of the Teamsters so that he could serve the members and "the working families of America."

Carey and William Hamilton, the union's former director of government affairs, are on trial before the review board, which has accused them of embezzling money from the union's general treasury to help finance Carey's reelection campaign. In more than 300 cases, the review board has never exonerated anyone facing its censure.

Carey narrowly defeated James P. Hoffa in the 1996 election, but the election results have been thrown out and Carey has since been disqualified from running for office again because of the financing allegations involving his campaign. Carey has previously testified under oath in depositions before other government offices investigating the Teamsters -- but he had not previously testified in public.

The 1.4 million-member union has been operating under court supervision since 1989 as part of a consent decree signed by the union with the Justice Department to settle civil racketeering charges. Carey, running as the reform candidate pledging to rid the union of corruption, was elected in 1991 in the first direct election of national officers in Teamsters history. Both the 1991 and the 1996 elections were conducted under strict government supervision.

Lawyers for the two union officials have argued that both were the victims of Jere Nash, who managed Carey's 1996 reelection campaign and has since been convicted of criminal fraud charges, and Martin Davis, another Carey campaign operative convicted of fraud who was also a business associate of Nash. Nash and Davis have not been sentenced and are cooperating with federal prosecutors in New York who continue to investigate the Carey campaign.

Carey and Hamilton did score a potential victory in the courtroom yesterday when the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York agreed to ask that Nash be allowed to testify at the review board's hearing to give the two men a chance to confront their accuser face-to-face and under oath. Late in the day, a request was made to also allow Davis to appear. The U.S. attorney's office had originally blocked both men's appearances.

Attorneys for Davis and Martin can still refuse to allow their clients to appear, and the review board does not have subpoena power to force them to testify.

At the heart of the allegations against both Carey and Hamilton are what have been referred to as "swap schemes" in which the Teamsters would give money to various grass-roots political groups that support Democratic candidates in exchange for those groups arranging to have their political friends make donations to the Carey campaign. Under these schemes, the government alleges, the campaign embezzled union money to illegally finance Carey's election efforts.

At one point in the hearing, Carey's attorneys called a veteran FBI lie-detector expert to the stand to tell how he had tested Carey late last year and he had passed with flying colors. "There weren't any indications of deception," Barry Colvert told the hearing.

But Colvert's findings were met with some skepticism by two of the three review board members -- former federal judge Frederick Lacey and former FBI director William Webster.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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