James P. Hoffa wasn’t president of the Teamsters union as the Metro Times went to press Monday — and it wasn’t yet clear when he would be.
Michael Cherkasky, the government monitor who oversaw the union’s November-December vote, expected to install Hoffa’s slate in early January. But Cherkasky’s office is looking into protests by Hoffa’s election foe, Tom Leedham, who raised a number of allegations about Hoffa and his running mates.
The Hoffa campaign did not respond when Metro Times asked for comment.
The most serious Leedham protests piggyback on the work of the Independent Review Board, a court-appointed panel overseeing the Teamsters. Three of Hoffa’s vice presidential running mates face IRB charges of the type that in the past have usually led to expulsion or suspension from the union.
According to the IRB:
• Jim Santangelo of Los Angeles made illegal loans from his local’s treasury that were never repaid, and set up a sham severance pay plan for union employees.
• J.D. Potter of Texas tried to illegally give $5,000 to the Hoffa campaign.
• Tom O’Donnell of New York tried to cover up the presence of convicted felon Kevin Currie on the Hoffa campaign payroll. Currie’s business card lists himself as New York campaign manager.
If the IRB were to remove any of the vice presidents-elect from the union, they would be ineligible to serve on the board. Remaining executive board members would appoint replacements.
The IRB charge against O’Donnell, for falsifying campaign finance reports to hide Currie’s employment, is the same offense for which Cherkasky found the Hoffa campaign guilty last year, leading to a $7,500 fine.
"If O’Donnell was charged by the IRB, it’s hard to see why his boss, Hoffa, has not yet been charged (personally) too," said Ken Paff of Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a key Leedham supporter. The charges against Hoffa’s current vice presidents come on top of those against five running mates from his earlier slate in 1996. They were found guilty by either the IRB or the Election Officer of a variety of offenses, including embezzlement, signing sham contracts with companies owned by family members, and conspiring with UPS to get a rank-and-file union member fired.
Allegations have been made about a number of current Hoffa allies. Hoffa has appointed to his transition team Carlo Scalf of Detroit, who, Cherkasky found last year, laundered union money destined for the election campaign of Hoffa’s mentor, Larry Brennan. He is openly working with Richard Leebove, whom Cherkasky barred from the campaign for making illegal employer contributions.
Leedham said that allowing Hoffa to become Teamster president and appoint to high-level positions people under a cloud would only "guarantee the indefinite perpetuation of government oversight" of the union.
Assuming that Hoffa will take office, one of his first big bargaining tests will come here in Detroit, where a national contract for 10,000 car haulers expires May 31.