James B. Jacobs


On his book Breaking the Devil’s Pact: The Battle to Free the Teamsters From the Mob

Cover Interview of October 30, 2011

In a nutshell

Breaking the Devil’s Pact is a case study of the 22+ years of effort on part of federal prosecutors, federal judges and court-appointed monitors to purge organized crime influence from the Teamsters Union.

The battle began in 1988, when then (Manhattan) U.S. attorney Rudy Giuliani brought an unprecedented civil racketeering (RICO) lawsuit against the president and general executive board of the nation’s most populous and most powerful trade union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), and the nation’s most powerful organized crime syndicate, Cosa Nostra (LCN).  Citing scores of past criminal prosecutions for violence, theft, fraud and all manner of exploitation of union members’ rights, the lawsuit alleged the existence of a “devil’s pact” between the IBT’s leadership and the LCN bosses.

Our book documents and analyzes the politics surrounding the filing of the lawsuit, the settlement on the eve of trial, the IBT leadership’s post-settlement change of heart and massive legal resistance to the settlement’s enforcement, the historic 1991 nationwide rank and file election won by the insurgent reformer Ron Carey, Carey’s “tragic” expulsion from the IBT on account of 1996 election fraud, and the emergence of James P. Hoffa, son of the notorious Jimmy Hoffa, as the IBT’s general president.

Breaking the Devil’s Pact traces the history of the most important legal attack ever launched on the LCN.

FBI investigators and Department of Justice lawyers realized in the mid 1980s that certain labor unions, especially the IBT, were LCN’s most important power base. The LCN bosses approved or actually selected IBT presidents, Jimmy Hoffa, Frank Fitzsimmons, Roy Williams and Jackie Presser.  Cosa Nostra’s influence in union affairs generated a steady stream of revenue; in fact, the Teamsters Central States Pension and Welfare Fund functioned as a kind of Mafia bank.  The IBT power base also gave the LCN bosses immense local, regional and national political influence. Indeed, Jackie Presser was a member of President-elect Reagan’s transition team.

The essence of labor racketeering is 1) the threat and actual use of violence to suppress dissent, 2) the sale by corrupt union officials and their organized crime partners of union members’ constitutional and contractual rights to employers (the employers pay bribes to circumvent their contractual obligations), and 3) the exploitation of the union’s financial resources.

Breaking the Devil’s Pact illuminates the complexity of reforming an immensely powerful union, both politically and economically powerful, with 1.4 million members and locals all across the United States and Canada.

The settlement of the civil RICO lawsuit, U.S. v. IBT, sought to accomplish such reform by two remedial strategies: 1) fostering union democracy—through court-officer supervised direct rank and file election of international union officials; 2) court-officers purging of LCN-connected and corrupt union officers from the union by means of the union’s disciplinary machinery.  Both remedial strategies have strengths and weaknesses.

Breaking the Devil’s Pact contributes to our understanding of the potential and limits of federal courts to design and carry out organizational change.

Many books document and debate the propriety and efficacy of federal courts’ efforts to remedy unconstitutional conditions and practices in public institutions like schools, prisons and mental hospitals. But this is the first book to shine a light on federal courts’ efforts to reform a private sector organization in which organized crime wielded pervasive influence.

In the end, the government and the courts have been substantially successful in severing the devil’s pact between the IBT and LCN. Progress has often been difficult. There have been many points along the way when the whole remedial effort could have been derailed. Five presidential administrations have not interfered with the work of the court-appointed officers. All sorts of legal, financial and logistical hurdles have been overcome. The value of civil RICO as a tool for systemic reform of corrupt organizations has been demonstrated.

Despite a steady chorus of labor and political criticism, U.S. v. IBT shows that government intervention on behalf of union democracy makes for a stronger, not weaker, union.