The Prosecution and Persecution of Ron Carey | The Nation


The Prosecution and Persecution of Ron Carey

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Monie Simpkins is a problematic witness. When the scandal hit, she told a lawyer for the Carey campaign that she had not spoken with Carey about the scheme, according to this lawyer. Then Simpkins told a Teamsters attorney she had not received Carey's authorizations for the four contributions in question. But she retracted that assertion and said she had in passing obtained Carey's approval for one of the donations--but not the four she mentioned in her affidavit.

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David Corn
David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. Until 2007, he was Washington editor of The Nation. He has written...

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Simpkins has repeatedly altered her tale, rendering her an unreliable source. Still, her most incriminating remark was merely that she had told Carey she had talked with Nash about the political contributions. She has not said that she told Carey these contributions would be traded for donations to Carey's campaign. The most that can be read into her affidavit is that she might have given Carey cause to wonder. Further undermining the Simpkins evidence is testimony at the I.R.B. hearing given by Theresa Sherman, another secretary at Teamsters headquarters. Sherman said that Simpkins in 1996 had admitted privately to her that she, Simpkins, had approved at least one of the swap-related contributions without discussing it with Carey and that she was worried she could go to jail for it. And in December 1997, Sherman testified, Simpkins called her and said that Carey had never known about the questionable contributions and that her previous incriminating statements had been twisted. Sherman's testimony is hearsay, but it offers further reason to be skeptical of a case built on a short affidavit from Simpkins.

Ultimately, the case against Carey boils down to the vague, uncorroborated statements of a convicted felon who is facing ten years in prison and is looking for help with his sentence (Nash); a nugget of nondefinitive information provided by a Teamsters official (Hamilton); and suggestive testimony from a secretary who has provided changing versions of events and who may have illegally signed Carey's initials to a contribution (Simpkins).

Carey's defense is not without its holes. He says he has no recollection whatsoever of the political donations at issue (such as the $475,000 Teamsters contribution to Citizen Action) and no memory of approving $885,000 in advocacy contributions the Teamsters made in a two-week period--despite the fact that Nash, Simpkins and Hamilton each claimed to have spoken to him in some regard about these contributions. For his part, Carey says he was in the middle of a brutal campaign and burdened by severe knee problems, and expected the national office to deal with the details of the union's overall political plan once he set it in place. But even if the donations were consistent with union policy, it is hard to believe they did not register with Carey. This lack of memory seems to have enraged his pursuers. It is, Carberry wrote, "incredible." And Conboy noted, "I find it unbelievable that Mr. Carey would have no recollection of ever having discussed that $475,000 contribution with Mr. Nash, Mr. Hamilton or Ms. Simpkins."

Still, the point remains: To date, neither Conboy nor Carberry nor the U.S. Attorney has produced direct, incontrovertible evidence from a reliable source that Carey was in on the money exchange. Conboy inferred that Carey participated in the scam, and maybe he guessed correctly. But a union should not turn on the inference of one man, especially when the process is not open to challenge. Before Conboy booted Carey from the Teamsters election rerun, he did not hold a hearing, share evidence he had gathered with Carey or allow Carey and his lawyers the chance to confront the witnesses against him.

After Conboy disqualified Carey, the union leader filed an appeal with U.S. District Court Judge David Edelstein, who oversees the Teamsters consent decree. Carey's attorneys challenged Conboy on the facts and on the process, complaining that Conboy had conducted his inquiry in "Star Chamber-like secrecy." But Edelstein declared that since Conboy was technically not a "state actor," Carey was not entitled to due process protections. He also ruled that Conboy's investigation had been "extensive and comprehensive" and that Conboy's findings "are entitled to great deference." Carey is appealing Edelstein's ruling.

Carey was finally able to penetrate the secrecy on March 11. At a supplemental I.R.B. hearing, Jere Nash took the stand. It was the first time Carey's lawyers could grill the chief witness against their client. In this dramatic showdown, Nash stated that his one and only conversation with Carey about the scheme--the most significant piece of evidence against him--took place during a fifteen-second phone discussion; that he did not mention the swap explicitly; that he merely told Carey that by approving the Citizen Action grant Carey could help campaign fundraising. According to Nash, Carey said to him, "No one ever explained it to me like that," and indicated he would approve the contribution. Nash testified that he did not explain to Carey how this would help campaign fundraising and that he never spoke with Carey about the other donations involved in the swaps and did not know if Carey had approved them. Nash said he gave no indication to Carey that anything conspiratorial or illegal was afoot.

Nash's testimony also revealed that he may have been neck-deep in a shady conflict of interest. In 1996 he received $128,000 from Martin Davis's consulting firm, which was the largest vendor for the Carey campaign. This pay was ostensibly for six months of part-time work Nash did related to the Clinton-Gore campaign. (Nash's compensation from the Carey campaign was much less: $2,500 a month.) Nash simultaneously was managing the Carey campaign and employed by its biggest creditor. The swaps occurred when Nash and Davis were looking for money to pay for a $700,000 direct-mail push for the Carey campaign--a direct-mail effort to be handled by Davis and one that would result in large profits for his firm. With Davis his main income source, Nash, then, may have had a financial incentive to go along with Davis's swap scheme and not inform Carey of it. And as Carey's attorneys noted, Nash, who is cooperating with the U.S. Attorney, might be testifying against Carey to win a reduction in sentence.

Motives aside, Nash's testimony made clear that the important question of who will lead the Teamsters rests on the meaning of a vague fifteen-second exchange. Several reporters left the courtroom that day mumbling a shared conclusion: The case against Carey could never succeed before a jury.

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