Teamster election rigged from start, trial witness says

A witness in the federal trial of three former Teamsters Local 743 officials accused of stealing a 2004 election testified yesterday that he noticed irregularities early on and was ultimately fired by incumbents trying to maintain control of the local.

John Edward Kasen, a retired Department of Labor worker hired to officiate the first of two late 2004 elections, recounted a series of problems that emerged soon after secret ballots for an October 2004 election were mailed to members.

Among the irregularities: The possibility of duplicate keys for P.O. boxes that he was supposed to be the only one authorized to access; disparities in the number of undeliverable ballots, and preliminary results showing every candidate of the incumbent Unity slate retaining their seat by slim margins except the president, who was behind challenger Richard Berg by seven votes.

Only 58 ballots turned up in the P.O. box designated for undeliverable ballots, Kasen says, while more than 300 were returned to the campaign of Richard Berg, who is now the local’s president. Kasen said Berg’s concern was that “ballots were being stolen.”

The former president, Robert Walston, has pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the election and unrelated drug charges in an arrangement that includes his testimony during the trial. Walston, who retired from the union in 2007, is among two other former union workers, Cassandra Mosley and Mark Jones, who have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with prosecutors.

Kasen says he spoke with candidates on both sides and an attorney for the union before deciding that the discrepancies would have to be accounted for. During a tally on Saturday, Oct. 16, Kasen said the number of suspect ballots reached 86.

“These challenges had to be resolved,” according to Kasen. Without a definitive result that day, Kasen says, he secured all of the ballots and took them to a motel by Midway Airport where he would wait until the counting resumed the following week.

The following Monday, Kasen says he was visited at the motel by the local’s attorney, and two members of the incumbent slate, including Richard Lopez, the former recording secretary, who is also on trial.

Kasen says the attorney fired him on the spot and asked that he turn over the ballots, which were taped up in boxes to prevent tampering. Kasen explained he would agree to turn over the ballots to a third party and later delivered them to the American Arbitration Association in downtown Chicago. Yesterday, 12 boxes of the ballots were wheeled into the courtroom as evidence.

The officials told Kasen they decided to stop the count based on one of the many protests Berg had lodged with the local, alleging that one member had not received a ballot. Kasen says he found it extremely unusual that they would cancel an election of 12,000 members because one person alleged to have not received a ballot and after officials denied another of Berg’s protests alleging theft of more than 300 ballots.

The trial is scheduled to continue today at 10:30 a.m. before Judge Charles P. Kocoras.

Prosecutors plan to show that Unity slate members manipulated the Teamster Information Terminal Accounting Network, or TITAN by its internal acronym, by inputting the addresses of friends and associates who would illegally mark ballots in their favor.

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.