Everyone knew that Jackie Presser was a kept man of the Cleveland mob. That’s how he eventually got to the top of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in 1983. But it took a lot of gumshoe work to get the goods on him. Among those who did the work was James Thomas, known to his colleagues as “Foggy.” Thomas, 66, died May 23 after a long battle with lung cancer. He began his federal career with the IRS, and closed it in 1991 with the Defense Criminal Investigative Service. But it was his work with the Department of Labor during the early- to mid-80s for which he will be best remembered.
Thomas, along with fellow DOL investigator George “Red” Simmons, spent four years probing kickbacks and ghost-employee schemes operated by Presser, often engaging in telescope surveillance. He got plenty of resistance from the FBI, who, though unknown to the public at the time, had been using Presser as a witness. Eventually, Thomas’ perseverance paid off in the form of an indictment against Presser in 1986 for embezzlement and racketeering. Presser died of cancer in 1988 before he could go on trial. Thomas also was a key government witness against Presser’s uncle, Allen Friedman, helping to convict the latter on embezzlement charges. After his retirement from government service, Thomas built a tax and accounting business that involved each of his adult children. He was a resident of Avon Lake, Ohio, west of Cleveland. (Plain Dealer, 5/26/06).