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Teamsters Local Returned to Members

February 25, 1999

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ Teamsters Local 560, for decades considered the most mob-riddled union in the nation, was returned Thursday to the direct control of its members for the first time in nearly 13 years.

In removing his court-ordered trustee, U.S. District Judge Harold A. Ackerman accepted assertions from the trustee and law enforcement officials that the northern New Jersey union was finally free of a Mafia ``cancer″ that drained its pension and murdered dissidents.

``I never dreamed it would be such a long time,″ said Ackerman, who got the case when the U.S. Justice Department sued the union in 1982. In June 1986, he imposed the order, the first federal takeover of a union.

Local 560, based in Union City, has about 4,400 members, mostly truck drivers, warehouse workers and factory employees. Its longtime boss was linked to the 1975 disappearance of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa.

In the union’s first election in a decade, members in December chose former truck driver Pete Brown as president, which trustee Edwin H. Stier cited as evidence of fundamental change.

The Brown ticket got 55 percent of the vote, soundly defeating two other tickets, including one led by the nephew of Michael Sciarra, who was elected president in 1988 but expelled for associating with the Genovese crime family.

``I believe that the power of organized crime to control Local 560 has been broken,″ Stier said.

But just in case, Ackerman retained jurisdiction over the union for four years, past its next election, in 2001, and barred its leaders from any actions or associations that could harm the union.

Among the spectators in the courtroom were a dozen rank-and-file Teamsters, including trucker William Scheeler, wearing the union’s familiar black satin jacket.

A Teamster for 35 years, Scheeler said he was not surprised the government needed so long to cleanse the union, recalling how members were intimidated from speaking out.

``We made decent money,″ said Scheeler, 61, who said he put his two children through college. ``But now it comes time to retire, and the pension money isn’t there.″

The mob’s tainted investments and dishonest loans cost members hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits, Stier said. He said the takeover exposed that one pension fund was heading for bankruptcy, and eventually members realized the price of mob exploitation.

The pension funds are now fully funded, at about $550 million compared with $100 million in the 1980s, but pensions are not as high as they could have been, he said.

From the 1950s, Local 560 became a ``cash cow″ for mobsters under the thumb of the late Anthony ``Tony Pro″ Provenzano, a convicted captain in the Genovese crime family, said Robert C. Stewart, a retired federal prosecutor who was among the original investigators of the union.

He recounted for Ackerman how several Mafia families turned to Provenzano _ based on his proven ability _ to arrange the elimination of Hoffa, who had been making anti-mob speeches. Hoffa disappeared from Detroit and is presumed dead. No one was ever charged.

Hoffa’s son was recently elected president of the international union in December, and he will be the one to swear in Brown as Local 560 president.

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