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Giuliani and the Teamsters: When Power Trumps the Rule of Law

Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s attorney and former mayor of New York City. | AP file photo

Those who haven’t followed Rudy Giuliani’s career closely have to be wondering whatever happened to the crime-busting former federal attorney from the Southern District of New York? How did Giuliani become a ubiquitous talking head on cable television, blasting the FBI, federal prosecutors, claiming that the President could actually shoot someone and legally pardon himself, keeping fact checkers busy with his eye-rolling, contradictory pronouncements on behalf of President Donald Trump? It is no surprise, however, to close observers of Giuliani’s career that the rule of law has often taken a back seat to the pursuit of power. This became evident when the crusading U.S. Attorney decided that instead of prosecuting criminal elements in the Teamster Union, he would use the civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) statute to effectively take federal control of the entire International Brotherhood of Teamsters. In announcing the Department of Justice’s controversial takeover in 1989, Giuliani claimed that his intention was to “act in a surgical way to take back the Teamsters union from the mafia.”

Yet 27 years later, decades after the mob elements were removed, an embedded watchdog appointed by the DOJ, known as the Independent Review Board (IRB), continues to exercise sweeping power to remove respected union officials who have never been accused of a crime. Some 1.4 million union members have lost their right to free speech and due process under the draconian rules of the IRB. Union officials have been removed for life whose only offense is communicating with friends who were permanently barred or for criticizing continued government control of the union. Jack Goldsmith, former Assistant Attorney General under President George W. Bush, who teaches law at Harvard, says that the IRB “has all the earmarks of state action” that violates the First Amendment and the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.

When Giuliani first filed a lawsuit against the union invoking RICO to take control of the Teamsters Union, there was a firestorm of criticism and 264 members of congress sent a letter to then Attorney General Edwin Meese opposing the idea. Senator Sam Nunn, who chaired the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, and who was as committed to fighting organized crime as Giuliani, warned: “The government has clearly crossed over into a new frontier in law enforcement, injecting itself into the day to day supervision of labor unions and under the broad terms of the statute any other entity.” Even stronger criticisms came from Senators Orrin Hatch and Paul Simon who called the takeover “the most repressive governmental action I’ve seen in my lifetime.”

| OPINION

Giuliani and his deputy Randy Mastro threatened Teamster executive board members with criminal prosecutions, loss of pension and prohibited them from using union funds to defend themselves under RICO, unless they agreed to sign a consent decree giving the federal government extraordinary power over the union. With this legal gun to their heads, the executive board agreed to sign the consent decree — as long as the government promised to allow delegates to the next union convention to approve or overturn the agreement.

But the government’s promise was never kept. Author and legal analyst Steven Brill wrote that Giuliani and Mastro abused Justice Department procedures to handpick a highly controversial judge, David Edelstein, who prosecutors could count on to approve their actions — including a filing that the Justice Department could ignore a convention vote against the consent decree and the government takeover. The 1991 Teamster convention did, in fact, vote overwhelmingly against the consent decree, but government control has continued — though the removal of the mob elements was accomplished in the first three years.

Among those permanently barred from the Teamsters for criticizing the IRB was former Chicago Joint Council 25 leader Bill Hogan, a civic leader widely praised for negotiating agreements that greatly expanded Chicago’s trade show industry and helped establish the city as an important location for film and television production. The IRB accused Hogan of intending to negotiate a “substandard” labor agreement for temporary trade show workers in Las Vegas. But no agreement was ever reached for the Las Vegas trade show workers, though discussions had progressed to raising hourly wages of the workers from the minimum wage of $7, to $10 or $11 an hour – a forty percent raise. This baseless accusation was used to remove for life a respected union leader and critic of government control.

By contrast, the IRB openly supported the candidacy of Ron Carey for President in 1991 whom they extolled as a reformer though he had received kickbacks in a Lucchese crime family loansharking operation using union pension funds. In 1986, Carey received a letter of immunity from prosecution from none other than Rudy Giuliani for his failure to pay taxes on the kickbacks. There is no evidence that Giuliani ever publicly raised any concerns about Ron Carey when he was elected president of the Teamsters. The IRB protected Carey until he was finally removed in 1999 amidst multiple scandals including money laundering and election fraud. Ironically, Carey was exactly the type of deeply compromised union official that Giuliani’s government takeover was supposed to prevent from taking power in the Teamsters Union.

George Bogdanich is a writer and filmmaker who is completing a documentary on the government takeover of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

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