The Teamsters union has filed charges against the two former top leaders of a large Minnesota local, accusing them of embezzlement and other financial misconduct, including racketeering in the form of bank fraud.

A Teamsters hearing on the charges against Bradley Slawson Sr. and Bradley Slawson Jr. of Local 120 has been set for late February, and the Slawsons at maximum could be forced to repay tens of thousands of dollars and face banishment from the Teamsters forever, said union spokesman Bret Caldwell.

The charges stem from an investigation into Local 120 by the Teamsters Independent Review Board (IRB), a quasi-governmental body. The review board, as a matter of course, forwarded its recommended charges against the Slawsons to the U.S. Justice and Labor Departments for possible criminal prosecution or civil action.

Brian Toder, a Minneapolis lawyer representing the Slawsons, said he does not expect any action by those government bodies.

In fact, "I seriously doubt there will be a [Teamsters hearing on the charges], and I expect my clients to be exonerated," Toder said. "These charges should never have been brought in the first place."

The Independent Review Board is tasked -- partly by the U.S. Justice Department -- with rooting out corruption in the Teamsters. The Teamsters international union in November took over Local 120 after the review board's investigation of the Slawsons' stewardship.

"The IRB investigation was calculated to find a particular result," Toder said. Last month, Slawson Sr. claimed he and his son are victims of a "witch hunt" because in 2010 they ceased supporting the Teamsters' top leader, James P. Hoffa.

The review board late last month recommended to Hoffa and the international union that the Slawsons be charged, the Star Tribune has learned. Hoffa then "adopted" the charges, said Caldwell.

The union, also acting on the review board's recommendation, has charged former Teamster Todd Chester with embezzlement relating to his tenure as manager of a Local 120-owned bar in Fargo. Chester, a family friend of the Slawsons, didn't return calls Wednesday.

Local 120 is one of the largest Minnesota-based Teamsters locals with 11,661 members in five states. The Slawsons, both longtime Teamsters, are on unpaid leave.

The embezzlement charges against them stem partly from payments they received from the Fargo bar, known as the Teamsters Club. Slawson Sr. got $68,100 in stipends as a member of the bar's board; Slawson Jr. received $72,700.

Finders fee questioned

Both Slawsons allegedly took the payments "without authority and without a union purpose," according to the IRB. Also, Slawson Sr. is accused of embezzling an additional $90,000 via a finders fee paid to Chester in conjunction with the construction of a new union hall in Blaine.

Chester, the father of one of Slawson Sr.'s grandchildren, had introduced Stone Construction of Blaine to Local 120, according to the IRB. Stone was awarded the project, paying Chester $90,000 out of the money it received from Local 120.

Slawson Sr. has told the IRB that he only learned of the $90,000 fee during the investigation and was surprised by its amount.

The embezzlement charge against Chester stems from missing booze and beer at the Fargo bar. In its investigation, the review board concluded that unaccounted inventory led to $236,000 in lost revenue for the bar.

The review board alleges that Chester removed "inventory in amounts in excess of $1,000" and "converted" it to his own use.

Charges against the Slawsons include breaching their fiduciary duties to union members, violating the Teamsters' constitution and racketeering by allegedly providing false information for a bank lending money for the new union hall.

The charges will be heard at Local 120's union hall by a three-member panel of Teamsters officials from outside of Minnesota. Any banishment from the union could include prohibitions on current Teamsters from even talking to the Slawsons, Caldwell said.

Toder said the case against the Slawsons "has the potential to settle" before the hearing. But if the charges are heard as scheduled, "we are loaded for bear," Toder said.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003