Robert Walston had a side career during his reign as a Teamster local leader. And by prosecutors’ accounts, it was an illegal one. On January 22, Walston, formerly president of International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 743 in Chicago, was indicted on conspiracy and drug trafficking charges related to his alleged role as a bagman in an attempted 2007 Texas cocaine deal. The crimes occurred when he was still president of the local, though he would relinquish his post only a couple of months later to an ally, Richard Lopez, himself indicted in short order for his participation in a 2004 union election-rigging scheme.
Walston, an ally of International President James P. Hoffa, served as president of IBT Local 743, a 12,000-member union based in Chicago’s South Side representing warehouse, office, service and other workers. He also allegedly had a desire to supplement his income through drug trafficking. On June 16, 2007, federal law enforcement agents seized $135,000 in cash from Walston and a co-conspirator, Victor Matus, alleging they had taken several trips to Houston with large sums of cash to buy 80 kilograms of cocaine with intent to distribute. Walston claimed that the purpose of the trips was to buy trucks. The grand jury indictment says otherwise:
Beginning in or about April 2007, and continuing through at least June 16, 2007 at Chicago, in the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, and elsewhere, Victor M. Matus and Robert D. Walston, defendants herein, did conspire and agree with each other, and with others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to knowingly and intentionally distribute and possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, namely, 5 kilograms or more of mixtures and substances containing cocaine, a Schedule II Narcotic Drug Controlled Substance, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 841(a)(1).
The indictment indicated that Walston and Matus made two trips from Chicago to Houston, in May and June of 2007, to meet with “Individual A” and “Individual B” to discuss a cocaine transaction. Walston allegedly obtained any number of cashier’s checks to facilitate the planned transaction and offered the two unnamed individuals tractor-trailers as partial payment. The indictment also stated that Walston had given false statements to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in denying he traveled to Houston during the stated time frame.
Scandal is no stranger to Teamsters Local 743. One of its former principal officers, Donald Peters, was named as a defendant in the U.S. Justice Department’s 1988 civil RICO suit against the international union, settled the following year in a consent decree. Peters had been a close associate of Teamsters Central States Pension Fund manager Allen Dorfman, a Jimmy Hoffa protégé long in the pockets of the Chicago mob. And even after Walston’s departure, the local was embroiled in scandal. His hand-picked successor, Secretary-Treasurer Richard Lopez, and three associates, were indicted only days after Lopez had assumed the top office. The group allegedly had directed a ballot-rigging scheme to win the 2004 local election on behalf of their Unity slate. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), acting on complaints by members of the dissenting New Leadership slate, filed a civil suit challenging the results. A federal court in July 2007 ordered another election to take place in the fall. In that DOL-supervised election, Richard Berg and his New Leadership slate won. Walston subsequently was named as a co-conspirator in that case in a March 2008 superseding indictment. Now facing drug charges as well, his main concern would seem to be avoiding federal prison. (U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, 1/22/09; Teamsters for a Democratic Union, 2/4/09; other sources).