When the federal government assumed control over the Teamsters in 1989, it faced the task of rooting out corruption from any number of locals as well as from the international union. One of the toughest cases has proven to be Local 456, based in the Westchester County, N.Y. village of Elmsford. The union, for decades led by the Doyle family, is a tight fiefdom and a local power broker. And a decade ago, knowingly or not, it allowed an embezzler to manage its benefit plans. The recent sentencing of former benefits manager Kenneth Decter, owner of Unity Management, Inc., should serve as a reminder. On December 20, 2006, Decter was ordered by a federal court to serve 23 months in prison and pay more than $4.25 million in restitution after pleading guilty in 2004 to wire fraud and theft from union funds.
Based on evidence from a joint Labor Department-FBI investigation, federal prosecutors charged that Decter during December 1996-April 1998 had embezzled $2.95 million in union benefit funds from Fleet Bank and transferred them to a personal account. He also falsely claimed in quarterly portfolio reviews that he’d invested the money in bank certificates of deposit. In 2000, Fleet bought Summit Bank (N.J.), where Decter held an account, but could find none of the CDs that supposedly existed. The Labor Department recently reported that he had not returned any of the diverted assets.
Decter’s sentencing is the most recent effort by the federal government to clean up Local 456. Back in June 1999, longtime boss Edward Doyle, facing embezzlement and bribery charges, agreed to a seven-year suspension as president. The Teamsters’ federally-appointed oversight panel, the Independent Review Board (IRB), concluded that he’d taken part in a bribery-kickback scheme involving union vehicles purchased from a Yonkers, N.Y. car dealer. Doyle’s name also had come up in tape recordings in a probe of late Gambino crime family boss John Gotti. But this dynasty wasn’t about to leave the spotlight. Eddie Doyle, whose father ran the union during the 1940s and 50s, stayed on as head of the Westchester-Putnam (County) Building & Construction Trades Council. His brother, Bernard, became Local 456 president until the IRB determined that he’d engaged in financial mismanagement. His son, Edward, Jr., who had been secretary-treasurer, became president in 2004 after running unopposed. Another son, Scott, became a shop steward until his federal indictment in June 2004 for obstructing a grand jury investigation into a no-show union job scheme.
Local 456, to make a long story short, is a shady family business that has prevailed despite its ups and downs. The Doyles, or at least their allies, apparently retaliate against people who represent an obstacle to power. During the 21-month period when the local was run by IBT President James P. Hoffa-appointed trustee Dan Kane, Sr., the union office was burglarized and the tires of several cars on the adjacent parking lot were slashed. Outwardly, union leaders take the high road, preferring to build political careers. The most important of these has been that of Jeanine Pirro, the Republican candidate for New York State attorney general in 2006 – initially, she had challenged incumbent U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton before withdrawing from that race. “I would say that anyone who runs for office in Westchester (County) comes to see Eddie Doyle,” said Local 456 attorney Roy Barnes back in the 90s. “Eddie can deliver votes and can deliver manpower and contributions.” It’s hard to dispute that point today, even with Kenneth Decter out of the picture. (U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Semiannual Report to the Congress, October 1, 2006-March 31, 2007; other sources).