Tevlin: Of kickbacks, missing rum and a well-paid bar consultant

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 27, 2012 - 7:17 PM

To paraphrase the slogan from a pirate-themed rum commercial, some local Teamsters seem to "have a little Captain in them," both literally and figuratively.

But accusations of missing hooch, including a lot of Captain Morgan rum, is only the start of a mind-boggling 139-page report by the Teamsters Independent Review Board (IRB) alleging fraud and corruption by Local 120 bosses and their family members.

So far, these are just allegations by an independent board, set up in 1989 by the Teamsters with the U.S. Justice Department. But if the allegations are upheld in an IRB hearing, they could be passed along to the department for criminal charges.

Captain Morgan's branding pushes the image of a booze-swilling pirate with an uncommon amount of reckless bravado who likes to toast: "To life, love and loot."

Fitting.

It's hard to distill the IRB's remarkable document, but the nickel summary includes: Suspect finders fees for construction projects, secret payments to union leaders, dealings with "sham" companies, corruption, incompetence, financial improprieties, (deep breath), conflicts of interest, patronage, a "fake benefit for a non-existent sick baby," hundreds of thousands of dollars of unaccounted-for sports tickets and, of course, missing booze.

Paragraph after paragraph of what-the-what moments.

The international put Local 120's top officers, Brad Slawson Sr. and Brad Slawson Jr. (yep, father and son), on unpaid leave when the union was put into trusteeship earlier this month.

Brian Toder, a lawyer for the Slawsons, said he can't discuss details, but cautions, "unfortunately you can't read the parts that were left out. I can promise you that in a real short period of time, the other side will come out. We are in the middle of an investigation right now."

Local 120 distanced itself from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters a few years ago. I asked Toder if his clients might claim the IRB report is retaliation by the international.

"That's part of what I can't get into," Toder said.

However, Ken Paff, a founder of the Teamsters for a Democratic Union, which fights against union corruption, dismisses the notion the local is targeted. In fact, Paff said the international has been trying instead to eliminate the IRB.

"Why can the IRB find glaring corruption when the [international] can't?" said Paff. "In this case it was about as hard as finding a whale in a bathtub."

Brett Caldwell, spokesman for the international, denied they were trying to eliminate the IRB, just the agreement that put them in place. (Pause for logic check here).

Caldwell cautioned Paff that the members of the international may have had a role in tipping off the IRB. "We don't have that information," said Caldwell, adding, "this behavior is not how we do business, it is not acceptable."

Among the most egregious accusations are that the local paid a $90,000 "finders fee" to Todd Chester for hooking it up with a construction firm to build their new union hall. Chester is the father of the senior Slawson's grandchild. The fee was not disclosed to the local's board.

As the building progressed, Slawson Sr. did not have accountants for the local monitor the actual costs of the project. "This failure was either gross incompetence or corrupt. The evidence suggests the latter," the IRB concluded.

Other salacious details revolve around the local's ownership of a bar in Fargo. "The Teamster Club" had a bar manager and employees, but none was a union member. Full-time employees had no health benefits.

But one person who worked part time as a "consultant" did get benefits, according to the IRB: Todd Chester. He was a "successful bar owner who would set things right," the local bragged. Yet, Chester filed for bankruptcy while owning or managing a Blaine bar (it's not clear which) around the time he got the consulting job. (I want that job. Here's my audition: "Put more booze in the drinks.")

"Slawson Jr. testified the bar put the Teamsters in a better light in the community," the report said. "For a Teamster Local to operate a bar called 'The Teamster Club' using nonunion [employees] who received no benefits to keep its costs down would seem to undercut that claim."

Ya think?

The bar and gaming board ran the club, and its officers got total stipends of $335,000 from 2007 to 2012, while finances tanked. The local tried to argue the bar was actually profitable, but said they downplayed gains to avoid taxes. Whoops.

If the case gets the attention of the Justice Department, documents such as one titled "Analysis of Inventory of Captain Morgan's Spice Rum" should provide amusement. The report alleges at least 548 bottles of the rum are missing from the inventory.

"A spiced rum habit?" scoffed Paff. "Good lord."

To dredge up another Captain Morgan ad: Party like a champion, anyone?

jtevlin@startribune.com • 612-673-1702

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