Friday, U.S. District Judge David Edelstein rejected an agreement between Hoffa-led Teamsters and the U.S. Justice Department regarding Teamster elections scheduled for October 2001. Edelstein's decision sends the agreement back for unspecified revisions.
The Edelstein decision came just one day after federal authorities in Detroit announced the indictment of Larry Brennan, head of Teamster Local 337, on charges of embezzling union funds for his own 1996 reelection campaign. Brennan has close ties with Hoffa, and one of
Brennan's employees mentioned -- but not charged -- in the indictment is now an assistant to Hoffa.
The Teamsters union, long infamous for violence and corruption, has been operating with federal oversight since 1989. Hoffa promised to finally free the union from its ignominious federal stewardship when he assumed the Teamster presidency in 1999. These two events may have set that process back a notch.
Judge Edelstein's rejection of an election rules agreement between Teamster officials and federal overseers was critical in general but very short on specifics.
"I think the judge was getting at the problems in the process," said Ken Paff, spokesman for Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), a reform group within the union and a frequent Hoffa critic.
One such problem, Paff explained, was that the agreement was worked out directly between federal authorities and Teamster officials hostile toward reform elements like TDU. Paff noted a number of instances in which the Hoffa administration had moved to restrict TDU activities, including a demand that the TDU membership list should be turned over to the Teamsters.
"We want to see a more open (election) process," said Paff.
The indictment of Larry Brennan in Detroit had no immediate impact on Hoffa's administration, but it is clearly a public relations setback. Brennan is the man who hired Hoffa in September, 1993, making Hoffa eligible to run for the office his father held before he was jailed for corruption in 1967. The elder Hoffa was released by President Nixon in 1971 and vanished in 1975, the presumed victim of a mob hit. Brennan and five others were charged with diverting members funds to Brennan's own campaign for reelection in 1996. It was a similar charge that ultimately led to the ouster of Ron Carey, Hoffa's immediate predecessor as Teamster president.
Mentioned in the body of the indictment but not charged with any wrongdoing is Carlow Scalf, a former employee of Brennan's local. Scalf is now a personal aide to Hoffa. Hoffa critics have called for Scalf's dismissal, but he has been defended in the national media by Teamster spokesman Bret Caldwell.
Caldwell did not return a Truckinginfo.com call for comment.