By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
January 25, 1998
After months of complaining that he was being railroaded out of
office, Ron Carey, the Teamsters president, had his day in court
this week and presented an impassioned, point-by-point defense
to accusations that he had approved an illegal campaign-finance
But the court-appointed review board considering
whether to expel him from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters
In an effort to rescue his reputation and
his presidency, Carey -- long considered a hero for fighting union
corruption -- insisted that he knew nothing about the fund-raising
scheme and, in doing so, he directly contradicted testimony by
his secretary and his former campaign manager.
Carey asked the Independent Review Board,
which oversees the Teamsters, to believe that he was a victim,
rather than an author, of the fund-raising scheme, and that several
campaign aides who funneled Teamster money into his campaign did
so not to help his re-election, but to enrich themselves.
In three days of hearings at a federal courthouse,
it became clear that Carey's effort to clear his name has become
a test of his word against the word of his campaign manager, Jere
Nash. Nash and two other Carey campaign aides have pleaded guilty
to taking part in a web of improper fund-raising schemes in Carey's
Nash has told federal investigators that
he talked with Carey about one of those schemes, in which the
Teamsters made four donations, totaling $735,000, to three liberal
groups and in return contributors to those groups donated money
to Carey's nearly depleted campaign coffers.
Carey flatly denied having discussed this
with Nash, asserting that if Nash had proposed such a scheme,
Carey would have dismissed him immediately.
"If Jere Nash had said to me, 'Look,
if we rub someone's back, they'll massage our backs,' I would
have known something was wrong," said Carey, who has taken
a leave from the union presidency.
Carey's lawyer, Reid Weingarten, repeatedly
told the board that Nash pressed ahead with the $735,000 swap
scheme in order to siphon Teamster money to a direct-mail and
consulting firm run by Martin Davis, an adviser to Carey and one
of the aides who pleaded guilty. Several of the liberal groups
that received the Teamster donations later gave money to Davis'
firm, the November Group.
The Carey side pointed out that while running
Carey's campaign, Nash was also working for Davis' firm, without
Carey's knowing about it. Davis paid Nash $10,000 a month plus
a $50,000 bonus for steering business to the November Group, Weingarten
noted. Alluding to Nash and Davis, Weingarten said, "We believe
what was really at play was a design by these two guys to line
The Carey camp has repeatedly contended that
it would be a denial of due process to remove Carey based on Nash's
assertions unless Carey's lawyers first got the chance to confront
Nash through cross-examination. The Carey side insisted that Nash
was not credible, because he had confessed to lying to federal
investigators and had an incentive to incriminate Carey to obtain
a shorter prison sentence.
Responding to these pleas, the review board
said it would seek to get Nash to testify.
Throughout the hearings, Carey sought to
show his innocence by stating that as soon as his lawyers told
him of the improper fund-raising schemes, he began cooperating
with investigators and ordered his subordinates and lawyers to
do so too.
With accusations piling up against Carey
in recent months, many Carey supporters acknowledged that he faced
an uphill battle in convincing the review board of his innocence.
Last August, federal officials invalidated
his 1996 victory over James P. Hoffa for the union presidency,
and in November they barred him from running in a new election.
A U.S. district judge in New York has upheld the disqualification,
and Carey is appealing that decision.
For Carey, the stakes are huge in the review
board's hearing because if he convinces the board of his innocence,
that will allow him to stay in office and will go far to salvage
The review board was created to oversee the
Teamsters as part of a 1989 consent decree that settled a federal
racketeering suit against the union.
Carey's supporters say that if the review
board finds him not guilty, that should help persuade the federal
courts to overturn the decision barring him from running again.
And a not-guilty ruling might help persuade federal prosecutors
not to pursue an indictment against him.
But if the review board finds Carey guilty,
that is expected to end his run as one of the United States' best-known
Hoffa, now the front-runner in the Teamsters
election scheduled for next spring, might also face disqualification
because his campaign finances are also under investigation.
When the review board's chief investigator
filed charges against Carey last November, the charges questioned
the truthfulness of Carey's assertions that he knew nothing about
the $735,000 contributed to liberal groups for get-out-the-vote
efforts in the 1996 congressional elections.
Those donations included $475,000 to Citizen
Action, and at the hearing Carey was asked how he could not have
known about that unusually large contribution, especially since
it was opposed by some top Teamster officials.
Frederick Lacey, a former federal judge who
is the review board's chairman, said, "With the heat that
was generated in that building about these monies, it's beyond
my comprehension -- you heard none of this?"
Carey's defense sought to demonstrate that
it was totally plausible that he did not know about such contributions.
Carey testified that he was traveling when the contributions were
approved and that he delegated much of the union's day-to-day
business to subordinates, especially in 1996 when he was campaigning
around the country.
Carey's assertions that he delegated many
decisions to others were intended to explain his lack of knowledge
about the contributions, but those admissions worked against him
by buttressing a second set of charges that the review board was
considering: that Carey had breached his fiduciary duties by not
adequately supervising the union's finances.
Indeed, some Carey supporters came away from
the hearings suggesting that the board would remove him, not for
taking part in an improper fund-raising scheme, but for failing
to oversee the union properly.
In a tense moment, Carey contradicted an
affidavit from his executive secretary, Monie Simpkins, who said
she had talked with him and got his approval for the $735,000
in contributions. She has changed her testimony over the past
year, first saying he did not authorize any of the payments, then
saying he had approved all of them.
But Ms. Simpkins' testimony was undercut
by another secretary in Carey's office and by a mail clerk who
testified that Ms. Simpkins broke down sobbing one day and told
them that she had signed Carey's initials to approve the donations
without getting his approval.
As the hearings concluded, Lacey seemed at
a loss about who was telling the truth: Carey or Nash and Ms.
"I'm indicating to you this is an enigma,"
Lacey told Carey. "It is a difficult thing to resolve."
Copyright 1998 The New York Times