IRB Cites Former Minnesota Local Teamster Officials in Massive Thefts

teamsters-logoBradley Slawson Jr. long ago earned a reputation for intimidation. Now he’s likely earned one for theft as well. This time around, his father, Bradley Slawson Sr., appears to be the lead partner. On January 16, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) filed charges against the pair, based on recommendations by the Independent Review Board (IRB), the three-member court-mandated body that has overseen the Teamsters for more than two decades. The parent union accused the pair of embezzlement, bank fraud and other misconduct related to the disappearance of a combined more than $450,000 in funds and other things of value from an affiliate, Teamsters Local 120, and a related business. The IBT stripped the Slawsons of authority last fall following completion of an extensive review board probe and placed the Blaine, Minn. (Twin Cities-area) local under trusteeship. The Slawsons and their lawyer deny all wrongdoing, claiming the charges are politically-motivated.

The last name “Slawson” might be familiar to longtime readers of Union Corruption Update. Back in October 1999, the Teamsters launched a strike against the Richmond, Va.-based trucking firm Overnite Transportation Co. in hopes of obtaining a union contract. The nationwide walkout, which lasted three years, was one of the most unrelenting and bitter labor disputes in recent U.S. history. Finally, in October 2002, International President James P. Hoffa, unable to win a collective bargaining agreement, called off the strike. Union members around the nation, many of them employees of Overnite and many of them not, were implicated in shootings, assaults and vandalism. A number of the offenses occurred in the Twin Cities area, where Bradley Slawson Jr. and other members of Local 120 managed to be in the thick of things. According to police, Slawson, then recording secretary for Local 120, on November 3, 1999, entered company property and threatened security personnel. He pleaded guilty in May 2000 to disorderly conduct. He also was found in contempt of court in connection with unrefuted claims that he struck a nonunion Overnite driver with a picket sign and locked another driver in a trailer while the driver was attempting to make a delivery. At least four other local members pleaded guilty to various charges. And Local 120 was ordered to pay Overnite nearly $30,000 in damages.

The younger Slawson, like his father, remained in the union. Some members wished they hadn’t. This past December 20, the Independent Review Board, part of whose membership is appointed by the Teamsters, accused Bradley Slawson Sr., former Local 120 vice-president, and Bradley Slawson Jr. of embezzling or defrauding approximately $230,000 in funds from local operations (see pdf). The IRB, which is an advisory body, forwarded the report, an update of its November findings, to Teamster International President Hoffa, the Labor Department and the Justice Department for review and possible civil and/or criminal charges. According to board investigators, Slawson Sr. received $68,100 in unauthorized stipends from a Local 120-owned bar in Fargo, North Dakota known as the Teamsters Club, while his son got another $72,700. The father and son duo, said the board, took the money “without authority and without a union purpose.” In addition, Bradley Slawson Sr. embezzled another $90,000 by charging an unauthorized finder’s fee in connection with the construction of a new union hall of fame. The IRB also accuses former union member Todd Chester, bar manager of the Fargo facility and the father of one of Slawson Sr.’s grandchildren, with pilfering booze and beer. The inventory shortages allegedly represented $236,000 in lost potential revenue. The IRB recommended 11 specific charges against the Slawsons and lifetime expulsion from the union. A three-member Teamsters panel comprised of members from outside Minnesota conducted a daylong hearing on February 28. A decision is likely weeks away.

The Slawsons are denying all charges. Their Minneapolis-based lawyer, Brian Toder, says he doesn’t anticipate action by the government or even the parent union. “These charges should never have been brought in the first place,” he remarked. Bradley Slawson Sr. in December had stated he and his son are targets of a “witch hunt” because back in 2010 they withdrew their support for IBT President James Hoffa. Toder said the case against his clients “has the potential to settle” before the hearing. But if charges are brought, he said, “We are loaded for bear.” They may have to be. Teamsters Local 120 is a major union, with about 11,600 members across five states. The last thing that the international union, under tight federal supervision since its 1989 out-of-court civil RICO settlement, can afford is an appearance of sanctioning corruption in its ranks.

Postscript: Several weeks later in early April, Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa, acting on a recommendation by the Independent Review Board, banned the Slawsons from union leadership positions for life and ordered them to pay tens of thousands of dollars to Local 120 as compensation for embezzled funds.