When Chuck Crawley was convicted by a federal jury last December for arranging a $20,000 kickback from a union vendor and rigging his local’s 2002 election, few expected he would receive leniency come sentencing time. He didn’t get much either. On May 25, Crawley, formerly president of International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 988 in Houston, Texas, was handed a six-and-a-half-year sentence by U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon. A jury had found him guilty of one count each of mail fraud and falsifying union records, and two counts of embezzlement. He had been in custody since his arrest a year ago. “This is a very, very, very serious crime that flies in the face of what a president of a union is supposed to be about,” said Judge Harmon. “Not only did he get in there fraudulently, but he was fraudulently getting money.” Crawley, 57, also will have to figure out how to make $121,478 in restitution, a sum representing a year’s pay plus $20,000.
The 4,000-member Local 988, which mainly represents UPS employees in the Houston area, was not known for being a clean union. One of Crawley’s predecessors, Richard Hammond, spent four years in federal prison after a 1998 conviction for embezzling union funds. But “King Kong Chuck” Crawley, who styled himself as a reformer to win the top union post in 1997, proved even more suspect. Ed Stier, who during 1999-2004 served as the Teamsters’ internal cleanup program investigator, concluded in a 2003 report that Crawley had engaged in a consistent pattern of influence-peddling and intimidation. “He was a ruthless, vindictive guy who, if he found out anybody was criticizing him, would retaliate severely,” said Stier. One of Crawley’s more common tactics was to side against a worker facing a grievance panel if that worker was a source of potential opposition. As for Crawley’s take, prosecutors concluded that Crawley had collected $1,091,244.10 in kickbacks, salary and pension payments resulting from the rigged 2002 election and his three years as president since the 1999 election, about which revelations of ballot theft came to light in last year’s trial.
Crawley has maintained his innocence from the start. And his attorney thinks that an appeal will exonerate him. Defense lawyer Richard Kuniansky insists that the $1 million-plus loss is an exaggeration, and ignores the good his client did. “During his tenure, he [Crawley] dramatically improved the finances of the local Teamsters union as well as their labor contracts, yet he was sentenced for allegedly defrauding the Teamsters of over $1 million of his salary and benefits,” Kuniansky said. “He defrauded them of neither, and that is going to be a serious issue on appeal.” Certain local rank and file members aren’t as sympathetic. “I can always bounce back, but I’m just glad to see Mr. Crawley get what’s coming to him,” said Tim Gonzalez, who ran against Crawley for president back in 1999. (Houston Chronicle, 5/25/07, 5/26/07; Teamsters for a Democratic Union, 5/29/07).