Chapter Thirty-five

Las Vegas in the Sky

Former Socialist Workers Party member LaRouche's entrée into organized crime began appropriately with the Teamsters union, which the SWF had helped to build into a powerful force in the 1930s. As usual, LaRouche developed a cover story: He wanted to organize a "grand coalition" of America's industrial producers to smash the power of the "monetarists." Who better could qualify as industrial producers than America's truck drivers--those Teamster rank and filers whose forbears were the foot soldiers of the SWP-led Minneapolis General Strike in 1934? But LaRouche targeted Teamsters who hadn't done an honest day's work or led a legitimate strike in years--for instance, Jackie Presser, the bloated boss of the Cleveland joint council.

Presser was a close associate of Mitch WerBell's co-defendant in the pot trial, John Nardi. Their dealings went back decades. Nardi had backed the rise of Presser's father, Ohio Conference of Teamsters president William Presser. When slain, Nardi was the secretary of a vending machine local in the Cleveland joint council. His son, John Jr., was on the books of the younger Presser's Local 507,

The LaRouchians were aware of Nardi's links to both Presser and WerBell. In an attempt to reframe the NCLC's view of Teamster corruption, LaRouche argued that Teamster leaders such as Presser and Nardi were not what they appeared to be, but constituted a "traditionalist" faction in organized labor, a faction of patriotic ''nation builders." If they were under attack from the Justice Department/media cabal, it was because they, like the LaRouchians and WerBell, were seen as a threat to the power of the monetarists. New Solidarity thus took issue with the mainstream media's depiction of Nardi's slaying as mob-related. New Solidarity said it was an FBI hit. (Presser, however, would tell author Steve Brill that Nardi's murder was probably related to drug trafficking.)

LaRouche warned his followers that Presser and other traditionalist labor leaders were not yet fully conscious of their factional destiny. It was up to the NCLC to tutor them. If a LaRouche follower, sitting in an Italian restaurant with some hoodlum, were to suddenly wonder, "What am I doing here?" he could just close his eyes and imagine his dinner partner as a potential convert to Neoplatonic humanism. However, such mind games weren't always necessary. Many LaRouchians were thrilled to associate with tough guys. The New Left of the 1960s had discovered its ultimate fantasy in the guns, bandoliers, and glistening biceps of the Black Panthers. The LaRouchians found something similar in the flowery shirts, diamond rings, and blowtorches of Teamster organizers. Although Operation Mop Up had failed to dispel the self-image of LaRouche's followers as wimps and nerds, associating with the Teamsters provided a vicarious super-masculinity, like being the towel boy for the high school football team. Meanwhile, some Teamster officials may have found a balm for their own insecurities. For the first time, these despised and reviled outlaws of organized labor were getting respect from smart college boys, just like Cesar Chavez.

In 1977-78 the Teamster leadership was facing one of its periodic sieges by the Justice Department and the media while also under fire from rank-and-file reformers. Trucking deregulation meanwhile loomed in Congress as a threat to the union's bargaining power. The LaRouchians told the Teamsters that it was all one big Establishment plot and suggested they take the offensive. Jackie Presser had similar ideas, although not as grandiose, and this provided the LaRouchians with their opening wedge. New Solidarity urged the Teamsters to get behind Presser. NCLC members showed up at highway off-ramps and busy intersections in several cities to sell New Solidarity and pass out fliers attacking Teamster reform groups. Often they gave out Presser's phone number and urged truckers to call him with their grievances.

In the April-May 1977 Ohio Teamster, Presser adopted the LaRouchian rhetoric. "For years we have ignored our enemies," he wrote. "We now find that we must counterattack because it is becoming increasingly clear that these attacks...are part of a cleverly orchestrated campaign....We can only assume that it must be those radical forces who seek to destroy democracy and responsible capitalism. We are beginning to see curious alliances among those who attack the [International Brotherhood of Teamsters]. Alliances between self-proclaimed social reformers and self-confessed socialists and powerful money interests including tax-protected foundations. Recall if you will that it was foundations that were revealed as frequent conduits for 'dirty money' from the CIA...." Presser's complaint about CIA money can only be regarded as bizarre in light of the Teamsters union's cooperation in the early 1960s in CIA plots to assassinate Fidel Castro.

Presser's connection to the LaRouchians soon became widely known. The Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) newspaper, Convoy, repeatedly criticized it. Teamster vice president Harold Gibbons, now deceased, complained both inside the union's highest councils and to the press. In a 1979 telephone interview, he said the circulation of LaRouchian literature in the union was mostly Presser's doing. Two years later, he told Mother Jones magazine that the alliance was still in place and that Presser seemed to "admire" the LaRouchians. At the 1981 Teamster convention in Las Vegas, Presser openly associated with NCLC guests in defiance of his critics. For their part, the LaRouchians dismissed reports of Presser's organized-crime ties as enemy propaganda. When former mob enforcer Aladena T. ("Jimmy the Weasel") Fratianno testified in the trial of a San Francisco Teamster leader that Presser took orders from "La Cosa Nostra," New Solidarity assured NCLC members that this was a total lie.

The LaRouchians also fostered illusions about Presser's father, a twice-convicted felon who had been forced to resign in 1976 as trustee of an IBT pension fund after taking the Fifth in response to questions about alleged loans to mobsters. When the elder Presser died in 1981, New Solidarity stated that "the Teamsters not only lost a great leader but this country lost a great man....Young people in and out of the labor movement should look to him and his life for inspiration." New Solidarity doubtless had an eye to influencing Jackie, whose idolization of his father was well known. But the obituary was also useful in boosting the morale of NCLC members. Bill Presser, it was reported, had dedicated the last months of his life to saving America and the IBT pension fund from the forces of evil. The implication was that he had virtually become a LaRouchian. Although untrue, it reflected a new scheme the LaRouchians had begun discussing in 1980--to "borrow" money from senior citizens. This meant any senior citizen, even a racketeer. The rumor spread within the NCLC that an elderly Detroit mobster had given Helga a racehorse.

Jackie Presser gained a measure of respectability by backing Reagan for President in 1980. He served on the presidential transition team and inauguration committee--honors which facilitated his rise to the union's presidency in 1983. But the IBT's corruption was simply too visible to be ignored. The Justice Department continued to probe Presser's activities, and in 1985 summoned him before the White House Commission on Organized Crime, where he took the Fifth Amendment fifteen times. (Among the questions ducked was his relationship to an official of a LaRouche-linked Teamster local on Long Island.) The commission's report, released in March 1986, described Presser as having an "extensive record of organized crime associations." Two months later he was indicted in Cleveland on embezzlement and racketeering charges, including the theft of $700,000 from the union to pay "ghost" employees, including John Nardi, Jr.

In November 1986, Anthony ("Fat Tony") Salerno, former boss of the Genovese crime family and reputedly one of the nation's leading heroin traffickers, was indicted in New York. The government charged that he had conspired in 1983 to select Presser as Teamster president. (Presser's predecessor, Roy Williams, had resigned to begin serving a fifty-five-year bribery sentence.) A Salerno associate had met with the heads of organized crime in Cleveland and Chicago to seek their approval. Salerno allegedly had then influenced Teamster officials from the New York metropolitan area and elsewhere to support Presser.

By 1987 the Justice Department was so fed up with Presser and his Mafia friends that it announced a civil racketeering suit to remove the entire Teamster national leadership and place the union in trusteeship.

Presser was by no means the NCLC's only Teamster friend. LaRouche emissaries in the late 1970s dealt with Teamster officials on all levels, from the locals and joint councils up to the general executive board and the office of then IBT president Frank Fitzsimmons. For instance, there was the connection to Joint Council 73 in New Jersey, controlled by Genovese crime family captain Anthony ("Tony Pro") Provenzano. In September 1977, on the eve of Tony Pro's trial for the murder of a union rival, the Joint Council 73 newspaper published a summary of a New Solidarity International Press Service report on how the Teamsters were being victimized by evil forces. The clear implication was that Tony Pro was also being victimized. When he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment, he continued to control his union fiefdom through his brothers Nuncio and Salvatore ("Sammy Pro"). New Solidarity listed Sammy Pro as a sponsor of an NCLC call for a pro-nuclear power demonstration in Trenton. An NCLC member was invited to speak against Teamster reform groups at a local in Jersey City, with no questions from the floor allowed. According to defectors, LaRouche emissaries met several times with top New Jersey Teamsters to explore deeper cooperation and solicit financial donations. The Provenzanos were urged to guarantee no work stoppages at the construction site of Princeton University's Tokamak experimental fusion reactor. Fusion energy, the LaRouchians told them, was vital to the fight against communism.

A key attraction for many Teamster leaders was the NCLC's propaganda pamphlets. The most popular one, The Plot to Destroy the Teamsters, alleged that Wall Street bankers and liberal foundations controlled the TDU and another Teamster reform group, the Professional Drivers Council (PROD). The Plot was circulated in locals from Florida to Oregon. According to New Solidarity, 46,000 copies had been sold by late 1977. A map purported to show bulk purchases by twenty Teamster locals in twelve states. The Plot pamphlet was followed by The Deregulation Hoax: The Conspiracy to Destroy the Trucking Industry and the Teamsters, allegedly written to order for officials of the Southern Conference of Teamsters. Both pamphlets depicted Senator Edward Kennedy as a major villain.

The TDU and PROD carefully traced the circulation of NCLC smear literature. They recorded scores of incidents in which The Plot or other NCLC publications were displayed at union hiring halls, passed out at union meetings by business agents, or mailed to members with a cover letter from a local official and/or using union mailing labels. PROD staff attorney Steve Early went to Alaska in 1979. "You know there's no U.S. Labor Party [electoral arm of NCLC] in Fairbanks, Alaska," he said. "But guys were getting up at meetings or calling in to radio talk shows to ask me questions like 'What is your relationship to the Baader-Meinhof gang?'"

The NCLC reported with glee on alleged incidents of violence against reform leaders. An August 1978 New Solidarity gloated that "a PRODite was annoying workers at a nuclear plant construction site....The Teamsters circulated a petition...stating that they didn't want him around because of his 'anti-American, anti-union activities.' The workers' enthusiastic explanations of their just grievances left the PRODite befuddled at the bottom of a garbage pail." A later article suggested a "necktie party" for TDU national organizer Ken Paff.

The most widely circulated pamphlets disguised the NCLC's anti-Semitism behind such euphemisms as "Wall Street speculator" or "British banker." But the NCLC also produced overtly anti-Semitic literature for the Teamsters, apparently unconcerned that Presser was Jewish and that his wife sold Israel bonds. In The Gang That Killed Hoffa, circulated in many IBT locals in 1978, LaRouche professed to have solved the mystery of the former Teamster chief's disappearance: "We may not know the names of the thugs sent to do the killings [sic], but we know who sent them....The guys who did the hiring are walking the 'most respected persons' of the international Zionist community." The pamphlet depicted Jews as inveterate plotters: "The rituals of entry into the synagogue...include elements of a conspiratorial 'password' system."

Teamster officials typically played peekaboo with the LaRouchians. As one Teamster dissident explained: "You hear about a business agent passing out [U.S.] Labor Party literature--you even have eyewitnesses--but when you ask him, he denies it." And TDU's Paff said: "It's an old tactic. The union leaders don't want to look bad, so they get outsiders to come in and conduct their smear campaigns for them, calling us Communists, drug pushers, homosexuals. When the people who are being smeared complain, the union leaders simply disclaim any responsibility." What Paff described Teamster leaders as doing was exactly what the Reagan administration and the Star Wars lobby would do: Make full use of LaRouche's talents, but deny it when accused.

In the fall of 1977, Frank Fitzsimmons began weaving LaRouche's Rockefeller conspiracy theories into his speeches, and even considered working with the LaRouchians directly. His reasoning was eminently practical: These highly effective smear artists were Presser's creatures. If Presser could use them against union reformers, he also could use them against Fitzsimmons. The Teamster president thus proposed to co-opt them to be his own propaganda hit squad. When the Teamsters' staff attorneys learned of this scheme, they were dismayed and brought in Chicago journalist Chip Berlet, one of the authors of Brownshirts of the Seventies, an anti-LaRouche pamphlet. "I went right up to Fitzsimmons' floor to the legal section," said Berlet. "I spent hours with the attorneys laying out everything." The attorneys were then able to convince Fitzsimmons that the LaRouchians were too volatile to be relied on. Fitzsimmons also received complaints from members of the IBT general executive board and from the TDU. In January 1978 the board passed a resolution disclaiming any association with the NCLC, although Presser continued to work with them.

Even apart from Presser's attitude, Teamster reformers were skeptical of the sincerity of the anti-LaRouche resolution. Convoy (April 1978) speculated that the executive board had simply wanted the resolution on record in case anyone filed a libel suit regarding the contents of The Plot. However, Fitzsimmons' staff issued its own 22-page attack on the reformers that spring, repeating many of The Plot's allegations. Former PROD research director Bob Windrem speculated that the LaRouchians had written it. Teamster communications director Duke Zeller, who distributed the piece, claimed not to know who had written it.

The LaRouchians set about proving they could snoop as skillfully as they could smear. After infiltrating the June 1978 national conference of PROD, they prepared a 32-page report for Fitzsimmons. The document described the conference in detail, and included "background interviews" elicited under false pretenses with PROD leaders and Justice Department organized-crime strike force officials. Containing only modest doses of LaRouche's ideology, the report recommended a strong IBT counterattack against PROD and other enemies, along with overtures to the NAACP to construct a grassroots coalition for jobs and economic development,

One by one, the Teamster executive board members forgot about the anti-LaRouche resolution. International vice president Louis Peick's home local in Chicago used LaRouchian smear literature to fend off an election challenge from a reform slate. According to PROD's Dispatch, Peick recommended the LaRouchians' services to other locals. As high-level Teamsters in other cities also recommended them, they became a fixture. Whenever mob-linked union incumbents were threatened by an insurgent slate, an NCLC "truth squad" was always on call to brief the membership on the alleged conspiracy of Communists, PROD, TDU, Ralph Nader, and Jewish liberal foundations. "Their propaganda was very, very effective," said Bob Windrem. "They mimicked our [PROD's] style of using specific documentation. Their facts were usually wrong, but some guys believed them. We had panic calls from a lot of our supporters." Often, the NCLC provided campaign literature for incumbents. A federal district judge in Oakland, California, ordered a new election for Local 70 after a trucking school owner linked to the local's president purchased and distributed thousands of copies of NCLC pamphlets calling members of the reform slate dope pushers and terrorists.

On Long Island, the NCLC helped the leadership of Local 282 fend off a challenge by PROD members. The local's president was John Cody, a four-time-convicted felon and a friend of the late Mafia boss Carlo Gambino. One official of the local was Harold Gross, a former Murder, Inc., associate who had worked closely with Santos Trafficante, Jr., in Florida in the 1950s. An NCLC truth squad briefed Cody and his cronies, helped them produce smear leaflets, and addressed a union educational meeting a week before the election. After the insurgents were defeated (in an election marred by several acts of intimidation), New Solidarity quoted Cody as saying to the truth squad, "You gave us the ammunition to win." The local's leadership then purchased a $500 subscription to NCLC's Executive Intelligence Review to be sent to Cody. When the PROD members found out about this donation they filed a complaint of election irregularity with the U.S. Department of Labor. An investigator went to NCLC/U.S. Labor Party headquarters in Manhattan, but was not allowed in. The matter was dropped after USLP attorney David Heller denied that there was any connection between his client and New Solidarity International Press Service, the publisher of EIR. In fact, these entities shared the same offices and telephone switchboard, the same attorney (Heller), overlapping personnel, and a common control center--the NCLC National Executive Committee.

While campaigning to reelect hoodlums, the NCLC also launched the Michigan Anti-Drug Coalition, the first of several state organizations that would merge into the National Anti-Drug Coalition. Former smuggling defendant WerBell sent a message hailing the founding conference as a "profound step towards restoring this nation to health and prosperity." An officer of Cody's Local 282 co-signed a telegram pledging "100 percent support to your coalition's efforts to clean up the drug trade." The hypocrisy reached its height when Teamster general organizer Rolland McMaster showed up at a Michigan ADC conference in May, after meeting privately with LaRouche. McMaster called on IBT officials across the nation to support their local anti-drug coalitions, and he endorsed LaRouche as the anti-drug candidate for President.

The NCLC hailed McMaster as "one of the most respected...voices in all of organized labor." In fact, McMaster was one of Detroit's most notorious hoodlums. In 1959 he had taken the Fifth Amendment more than fifty times before the McClellan Committee. He later went to federal prison after being convicted of thirty-two counts of labor extortion. When he met the LaRouchians, he was, among other things, the power behind a truckers' local in the Meli crime family-dominated steel-hauling industry.

Dan Moldea's The Hoffa Wars, the definitive study of Midwestern Teamster corruption from the 1950s through the 1970s, describes McMaster as having been Hoffa's top leg breaker and an associate of some of the nation's most notorious crime bosses. The book devotes more attention to McMaster than to any other living Teamster hoodlum, describing numerous beatings, bombings, and other acts of mayhem carried out by his associates. Moldea cites the statement of Edward Partin (the former IBT official responsible for Hoffa's jury-tampering conviction) that McMaster was "a personal Hoffa liaison to Meyer Lansky, Santos Trafficante, the Dorfman family and the syndicate in Chicago, and the Genovese mob of New Jersey and New York."

According to Moldea, the earliest contact between McMaster and heroin overlord Trafficante was in 1957, when Hoffa sent McMaster to Miami to set up Local 320. The local, headed by Harold Gross, "served as a front for many of the mob's gambling and narcotics activities, Trafficante...occupied a small office in the union hall."

McMaster later became the head of Local 299, Hoffa's home local, where his depredations prompted dissidents to adopt the slogan "Take the Hood out of Brotherhood." In 1972 he was picked by Fitzsimmons to head up a Central States task force to organize steel haulers. According to a series in the Detroit Free Press, the organizing drive was little more than a shakedown racket employing ex-cons and other thugs armed with blowtorches and dynamite. It cost the IBT treasury $1.3 million, but organized fewer than 800 drivers.

The NCLC regarded McMaster's endorsement of LaRouche as a major coup. They circulated his statement throughout the Midwest in hundreds of thousands of leaflets and launched a "Teamster Committee to Elect LaRouche President." The officers of TCELP, as listed with the Federal Election Commission, were Detroit NCLC leaders, not members of the IBT. Teamster Joint Council 43 in Detroit, led by enemies of McMaster, promptly passed a resolution condemning LaRouche. Frank Fitzsimmons had to join the denunciatory chorus after a TCELP leaflet speculated that he too might endorse LaRouche. The speculation was not entirely wacky in light of Fitzsimmons' prior dealings with the LaRouchians, his aides' telephone chats with them, and candidate LaRouche's visit to IBT headquarters earlier that year. ("It took place; I was there," McMaster said in a phone interview.) Yet Fitzsimmons was angered. He sent a letter to the LaRouche campaign calling the leaflets "false and misleading" and demanding that it stop using the Teamsters' name. His letter was printed in The International Teamster for union members at large to read.

LaRouche's campaign committee sent Fitzsimmons an unctuous reply: "We applaud your decision and that of the Honourable Executive Board to refuse to endorse any presidential candidate at this time...." The letter gently suggested that loyal Teamster ally LaRouche be considered on his merits at the appropriate moment. When this elicited no response, LaRouche followed up with an open letter to Fitzsimmons implying that he fully understood the strong pressures being exerted on the IBT from "the White House, the Kennedy machine, and [Texas] Governor Connally" to stay away from the LaRouche campaign. LaRouche advised Fitzsimmons not to succumb to this divide-and-conquer tactic. Were not the IBT and the NCLC in the same boat as victims of the liberal establishment's "lying defamation and vicious persecution"?

With his typical audacity, LaRouche invited the leaders of America's largest union to give up their illusions about placating the power structure and join him in the fight for a new political order in which they would be safe forever from organized crime strike forces. He described the IBT as the "potential backbone" of this so-called American System: "When the IBT leads the way on issues of fundamental importance to this nation and its people, the building trades and other unions will follow--some quicker, some slower, but they will move. With such a nucleus of organized forces, farmers, entrepreneurs, minority forces, and others will group themselves together with such a force." The ultimate payoff would be "thousands" of executive posts for Teamsters in a LaRouche administration.

It is not recorded what Fitzsimmons thought of this plan for a Greater Las Vegas in the sky, but LaRouche's letter did suggest an interesting vision of McMaster's goon squads transformed into a secret police to shake down the entire economy, not just a few trucking bosses. New Solidarity had earlier suggested that the Jews were the main stumbling block to such a plan. One article called for a national network of "traditionalist American System-oriented" trade union leaders to fight against AFL-CIO leader Lane Kirkland "and other Anti-Defamation League linked circles..." Another article criticized union officials who hesitated "to come to grips with the Social Democratic and Zionist lobby traitors" in labor's ranks, (What LaRouche had in store for the so-called Zionists had already been spelled out in New Solidarity using such terms as "immediate elimination.")