- The Washington Times - Friday, January 11, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The government has agreed to relax financial oversight of the Teamsters in a decision that union officials see as the first step toward independence after 13 years of federal supervision.

This is the first time the government has come into our union and actually left," Teamsters spokesman Bret Caldwell said yesterday.

Under the federal court order that takes effect Jan. 27, the Teamsters' expenditures no longer must be reviewed by an independent financial auditor. But the government during the next 15 months can call for an audit to ensure the union is adhering to the agreement.

The Teamsters' finances have been scrutinized by an independent auditor since 1997. The audit was prompted by an investigation that found former Teamsters President Ron Carey's 1996 re-election campaign had illegally funneled $885,000 in union money to other organizations, which in turn arranged donations to the campaign.

The investigation found the "lack of adequate internal financial controls" was "an invitation to improper and illegal conduct." The election, in which Mr. Carey narrowly defeated current President James P. Hoffa, was overturned and Mr. Carey was barred from the union. Mr. Carey was cleared last year of charges that he lied about the illegal diversion of funds.

But government oversight of the Teamsters actually goes back to the 1989 settlement of a federal racketeering lawsuit. That separate agreement established an independent review board to rid the union of organized crime and monitor union elections.

Mr. Hoffa, who was elected to a second term in November, has stepped up efforts to end that supervision. He has been reaching out to the Bush administration, including helping to win House passage of Mr. Bush's energy plan last year.

Union officials view the end to the financial audit agreement as a step toward independence. But there is no mention of independence or the separate 1989 agreement in the judge's order, and Justice Department officials say making that connection goes too far.

Ending the financial audits will save the Teamsters about $600,000 a year, Mr. Caldwell said.

Mr. Hoffa has established spending controls and procedures to keep finances aboveboard, he said.

"Jim Hoffa has made clear from day one that the government has achieved its goals and it's time for them to go," Mr. Caldwell said.

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