Florida Probe of Campaign Contributions Moves Forward

A Port Everglades firm, Eller & Co., is negotiating with federal prosecutors in Tampa who want to force the firm to restore about $230,000 to a pension fund of Int’l Longshoremen’s Ass’n Local 1402. The negotiations were disclosed in a criminal plea agreement between the U.S. Attorneys’ office and former Eller & Co. president and chief executive Arthur C. Novacek. Novacek pled guilty in Sept. 2000 to making an illegal campaign contribution. As part of the deal, Novacek agreed to cooperate in the governments ongoing investigation.

Novacek, now a consultant to Eller, got into trouble for authorizing $1,000 in corporate contributions to Perry C. Harvey, who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Hillsborough County Commission in 1996. Harvey is the longtime president of Local 1402. At the time the contributions were made, Local 1402 represented Ellers’ Tampa-based employees, including workers at Harborside Refrigerated Services, then a wholly owned subsidiary. Harvey at the time was negotiating a new labor contract for the ILA with one of Novacek’s subordinates, Joseph Casella. One of Casella’s duties was to keep labor costs down.

According to the government, the corporate contributions authorized by Novacek were followed by negotiations with Harvey that led to substantial cuts in benefits for ILA members who worked moving cargo for Harborside. The contract ultimately agreed to between Harvey and Casella [who were both trustees of the pension fund] called for an approximate $2 per hour per longshoreman reduction in employer contributions to the pension fund, the main retirement fund for Harvey’s rank and file, the plea agreement says. Novacek was charged under an anti-bribery provision of the federal Taft-Hartley Act that forbids employers or their agents from paying money or other valuable considerations to the officers of a labor union. [Broward Daily Business Rev. 01/18/01]

Postscript: The charges against Casella were dropped later in 2001.