Readers Digest

The Devil and Roy Williams

By Eugene H. Methvin

Early in his Teamster career, this former war hero made a deal with Mafia bosses that launched him upward through the ranks all the way to the union presidency. But then came pay-up time

As President of the nation's largest union, the 1.7-million member International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Roy Lee Williams seemed untouchable. He ruled supreme in the union's palatial marble headquarters at the foot of Capitol Hill, and in I98I he became the first labor leader to be invited to the White House to consult with President Reagan.

But on December 3, 1985, Williams began a ten-year sentence in a federal prison in Springfield, Mo. At age 70, stricken with emphysema and dependent on a wheelchair, he now faces the prospect of ending his days behind bars, a fitting finale to a deadly bargain he made with the Mafia devil more than 30 years ago.

Precisely when Williams sold his soul even he doesn't know. "I got myself in a web before I really knew what was going on," he says.

"What Nick Wants." Williams began driving a truck in 1935 at age 20. Although husky and hot-tempered, he was, a fellow Teamster recalls, "really good-hearted." In World War II, he was a field artillery sergeant who fought across Europe. He single-handedly captured 41 Germans in a church by bluffing them into thinking he had a whole platoon behind him.

Coming home with a chest full of medals, including the Silver Star, he returned to his truck-driving job in Kansas City and rose rapidly in the Teamsters. He had two powerful mentors: Floyd Hayes, longtime ruler of Kansas City's Local 41, and a tough Detroiter named Jimmy Hoffa, then the rising boss of the Teamsters' multi-state Midwest conference.

Hoffa tapped Williams to take over a troubled Wichita local. Later, when Hayes's grip on Local 41 began to slip, Hoffa decided to make Williams his successor.

Hayes, a typical 1930s-era union brawler, took kickbacks on "sweetheart" deals and embezzled union funds. But he fiercely opposed mob gangsters. "Let those guys get their tentacles on you," he warned Williams, "and they'll run this union and you too."

Williams disregarded Hayes's advice. While representing the Teamsters in Kansas City's turbulent Democratic Party politics, he began working with Nick Civella, who represented a large Italian American political club and was already in the upper levels of Kansas City's Mafia hierarchy. He and Williams became "close personal friends.".

In 1952, according to the FBI, Williams attended a secret Chicago meeting of Midwest mob leaders, where it was agreed that Williams would run the Kansas City Teamsters and in turn "cooperate with the syndicate." Williams discussed all major union problems with Civella before making decisions. If they disagreed, orders came from Hoffa: "Do what Nick wants."

Playing for Keeps. At first Williams did not seem to understand the deadly grip of his syndicate alliance. He was soon enlightened. According to FBI testimony, in 1956, when Williams resisted buying a costly outpatient-care package for Local 41 members, he was visited by two of Civella's gangsters. "Buy the medical plan," the goons warned, "or we'll kill your children and your wife. You go last."

Williams broke into anguished tears as he told Hayes what had happened. Convinced that the program would devastate their union financially, the two men flew to Detroit to consult Hoffa, who met them with two mobsters at his elbow. "Buy the plan," Hoffa ordered, "and raise dues to cover it." They did.

Repeated dues hikes generated rank-and-file opposition. One critic, Jake Henderson, especially irritated Williams, who could be as tough as anyone in defending his union control. According to FBI testimony, Williams told Hayes he was going to have Henderson shot-just to scare him. One night in 1959 a shotgun blast tore through Henderson's living-room window, peppering his legs with 65 pellets.

Williams played a key role when the Hoffa-Mafia alliance completed its takeover at the Teamsters' 1957 Miami convention. He chaired the credentials committee and engineered the seating of delegates, who Senate investigators concluded, were chosen improperly, some from "paper locals" created by the syndicate.

Hoffa had already rewarded Williams by making him a trustee of the new Central States Pension Fund (CSPF), into which employers in 25 states poured millions of dollars for their union employees. For Hoffa and his Mafia allies, the CSPF became a rich lode from which to mine payoffs and kickbacks.

By the mid-1970s,, the mob was brazenly siphoning millions each year out of Las Vegas casinos bought with "loans" from the CSPF. But Justice Department prosecutors were powerless to crack the Teamster-Mafia combine without witnesses-and mob "hit men" ruthlessly sealed the lips of all who might testify.

One such was Floyd Hayes. In 1962 the FBI filed a case against Hayes, Williams and their cohorts for embezzling more than $200,000 in union funds. Although Hayes and others were convicted, Williams was acquitted when witnesses at the trial proved mysteriously vague about his role. The G-men visited Hayes, who agreed to become a government witness. He spent four days in a Chicago hotel room telling the FBI about Williams, Hoffa and their Mafia "connection," and detailing the casino skimming operation.

As a government witness, Hayes was now a prime Mafia target. He built a high fence around his home, floodlighted the yard and kept roaming watchdogs. But in June 1964, gangsters caught up with him in a parking lot and riddled him with bullets. They also wounded his wife. "They didn't have to shoot her," Hayes's FBI contact says. "That was a message"-to anyone else who might get out of line.

"See My Friend." As Williams rose through union ranks, he was always under Civella's control. Civella assigned a top associate, Sam Ancona, as his "messenger" to Williams. Ancona occupied an adjoining office in Teamster Hall and became an of official in a joint council overseeing more than 20,000 union members in two states. Even after Williams became Teamster president in 1981, Civella's "messenger" traveled with him wherever he went.

Mobsters in other cities sought to cut deals directly with Williams, but Civella ordered him to refuse. And Williams did. "You know where you've got to go," he always responded. "Go see my friend in Kansas City."

One businessman who went through his friend in Kansas City was Allen Glick, a San Diego real estate developer. In 1974 Glick sought a $63-million Teamster loan to buy two Las Vegas casinos. Chicago Teamster officials referred Glick to Milwaukee Mafia boss Frank Balistrieri, who then contacted Civella; with Williams signing off, Glick got his loan. Glick next hired Balistrieri's two sons as "legal retainers" for a fee of over $100,000 and gave them an option to buy a half-interest in the casinos for a mere $$25,000.. He also agreed to hire as his manager reputed Chicago Mafia associate Frank Rosenthal.

But Glick quickly found that he was a mere figurehead. Millions were skimmed from his casinos, and cash flowed monthly to Mafia bosses in Kansas City, Milwaukee, Chicago and Cleveland. From this money, Civella gave Williams $1500 a month. (Although 11 people were eventually convicted in the skimming, Rosenthal was never charged, and the Balistrieri sons, though indicted, were never convicted.) The chain of events leading to Roy Williams's downfall began after Hayes's murder, when the FBI put a new agent, Bill Ouseley, on Civella's trail. Using a court-authorized wiretap, Ouseley eavesdropped on Civella's bookie for weeks. Finally, he struck gold. On a 1970 weekend, Civella himself called his bookmaking headquarters for a report on the wagering. His conviction for conspiracy to violate interstate gambling laws was enough to send him off to his first prison term in 1977.

About the time Civella was paroled in 1978 a wave of mob murders persuaded Kansas City's federal judges to authorize new electronic surveillance. Ouseley and his colleagues recorded Civella and his brother Carl plotting to use the Mafia to promote Williams as Frank Fitzsimmons's successor in the Teamster presidency. When Fitzsimmons died in 1981, the Mafia "shadow government" quickly named Williams.

The G-men also uncovered a plan involving Williams in the sale of valuable Teamster real estate in Las Vegas to Sen. Howard Cannon (D., Nev.), then chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. The sale was to be in return for a commitment to delay trucking-deregulation legislation. One night Ouseley also monitored the Civella brothers coolly discussing whether to bring in outside killers to murder a gangland enemy. That conversation was enough for a federal judge to send Civella back to prison. (He died a few days after his release in 1983.)

View From the Dark Side. As the surveillance evidence accumulated, Ouseley and his colleagues decided to make their move. On February 14, 1979, they grabbed Civella's courier arriving at the Kansas City airport with two $$40,000 packages of stolen casino cash. That was the signal for FBI teams with dozens of search warrants to raid the homes of the Civellas and six other mobsters, as well as Las Vegas casino offices. The G men seized a bonanza of evidence: guns, bulletproof vests, and coded records of casino-cash payoffs to Teamster and Mafia figures.

Williams, another former pension-fund trustee, a current trustee and two Mafia figures were convicted of conspiracy to bribe Senator Cannon. The Senator was never indicted, but in 1982, with the trial making headlines, Nevada's voters defeated his bid for a fifth term.

Last October Roy Williams took the stand in Kansas City to testify against his erstwhile Mafia allies. For the first time, the American people heard inside testimony confirming the mob's reign of terror over the nation's largest union. Williams told how, during the years he spent climbing the Teamster hierarchy, one union member had been murdered and left in a car trunk and another shot in the head and tossed on his father's grave. "I was afraid, yes, sir," said Williams.

Why was he testifying? "I decided I would come up with the truth that I had been withholding for many years," Williams answered. "I'm seventy years old, sir, and when you get on the dark side of the cloud, you think a little different."

One month later the prison doors clanged shut on Roy Williams, the ultimate payoff for his 30-year alliance with the devil.

TODAY the $7-billion CSPF is under federal-court supervision and its investing is supervised by independent professional managers. But hundreds of other Teamster benefit funds have no such protection. Williams alleges that during his years with the Teamsters, every major Teamster local had "some connection with organized crime" and that his successor as Teamster president, Jackie Presser, is as controlled by the mob "as I was."

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