Fingerprints on ballot key to Teamster election trial

  • By Fernando Diaz
  • Staff Writer
  • April 29, 2009 @ 12:11 PM

A defense attorney broke into tears yesterday during closing arguments in the trial of three former Teamsters accused of election fraud, praising his client's courage in standing up to prosecutors. 

But Robert Habib told the jury he could not say how the fingerprints of his client,  David Rodriguez, ended up on completed ballots inside sealed envelopes received by the union during a 2004 election.

"I can't explain why David's prints are there. He can't explain it either," Habib said, "There are six billion of us on this earth, supposedly with different prints. One has a right to be skeptical."

Even so, Habib urged jurors to note his client's tenacity.

"David decided to fight," Habib said as his voice wavered and he fought back tears, "It takes a lot not to back down."

After a  three-week trial, jurors begin deliberating today on the fate of Rodriguez and two other officials of Teamsters Local 743.

Lawyers for the two other defendants, Thaddeus Bania, the union's former comptroller, and Richard Lopez, the former recording secretary, focused heavily on the credibility of the prosecution's witnesses.

Chief on their hit list was Robert Walston, the union's former president.

George Becker, who represents Bania, told jurors Walston is a pathological liar. 

He also questioned why Bania would involve himself in an electioneering scheme, given that he wasn't running for office and wouldn't benefit.

Becker also asked the jury to consider the timing surrounding at least a hundred address changes in the union's database. 

Prosecutors had alleged Bania made the changes in an effort to direct ballots away from unfriendly union voters.

But Becker noted the changes were made on the day of the funeral of Bania's former mother-in-law.

"Do you think the man is going to make up going to his mother-in-law's funeral and ditch his wife to go back and make the changes," Becker asked incredulously.

Becker also suggested that several people could have accessed Bania's account to make the changes, including Walston. Walston had access to an application for a computer account that included Bania's password, "Teddy," Becker said.

Lopez' attorney, Keith Spielfogel, said his client was opposed to ending the tally of an October election that was ultimately canceled. A later election in December became the focal point of the trial.

"This massive conspiracy the government is telling you about makes no sense," Spielfogel said."It's time for Rich Lopez to be able to move forward with his life."

During their closing arguments, prosecutors walked the jury through a mountain of documents surrounding the election, including the ballots containing Rodriguez's fingerprints.


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.