Feds: Teamsters rigged union election

Federal prosecutors say three former officials of Teamsters Local 743 stole a union election by tampering with membership information, diverting ballots to friends and associates and forming an "assembly line"  to mark ballots in their favor.

The federal criminal trial of union officials Richard Lopez, David Rodriguez and Thaddeus Bania began yesterday.

In her opening statement, Asst. U.S. Attorney Nathalina Hudson alleged that Bania was the director of the scheme. The men hatched the plan after they realized their Unity Slate was losing an October 2004 election by a thin margin.

But Lopez's attorney, Keith Spielfogel, told jurors the governnment's case was tainted by a key witness who "started lying and never stopped," in an effort shave time off his own prison sentence in the election case.

Hudson said Bania "took his game to the next level," by altering addresses for some of the union's 12,000 members in a master database, thus ensuring ballots would be sent to the Unity Slate's allies. Bania also  requested duplicate ballots using the names of other union members, prosecutors say.

Hudson says by December, the returns had swung in their favor, pushing them ahead of their rivals by 400 votes.

Hudson said insiders would explain how the three men were involved in the scheme from the beginning. 

One of those insiders is Robert Walston, the former president of Teamsters Local 743. He pleaded guity last month to criminal charges in connection with the election

Spielfogel said Watson faced prison time related to the election, but also for an unrelated drug charges that involved purchasing large quantities of cocaine in Houston and transporting them back to Chicago. Spielfogel says Walston was willing to trade his testimony for less time behind bars.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 10:30 a.m. today in the courtroom of Judge Charles P. Kocoras.

Staff Writer Fernando Diaz covers labor and unions for the Daily News. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 14, or fernando [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.