An independent auditor ruled that the Teamsters were wrong to drop charges against an official who accepted tickets to Playboy's Super Bowl Party from a company that employed union workers.
On Friday retired Judge Barbara S. Jones sent a letter to International Brotherhood of Teamsters President James Hoffa saying that union leadership should have pursued charges against his executive assistant William C. Smith III. Smith was accused of accepting six tickets worth an estimated $6,000 from Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits, a company that employs union members and engages in collective bargaining with the Teamsters.
"There was ample evidence before the IBT Panel to establish that the Super Bowl Party admissions had objective value despite the promotional nature of the event," said Jones, who serves as an independent review officer. "I have determined that the IBT's decision to dismiss the charge against Smith is inadequate under the circumstances."
Hoffa approved charges in November against several senior union officials stemming from an internal corruption probe, including the charge that Smith inappropriately accepted gifts from companies doing union business. A three-member union panel cleared Smith of those charges in May. Jones said that the panel erred in ruling that the free Playboy party tickets did not constitute a "thing of value."
"The decision fails to adequately consider and take into account that on January 31, 2013, Smith knew that the six admissions to the Super Bowl Party that Aloise procured for him were obtained through an IBT employer," Jones wrote. "Promotional items, such as free admissions to a party, can be a 'thing of value' under Section 186 and the IBT Constitution… that Smith stayed at the Party for only an hour and fifteen minutes and did not enjoy himself does not have any impact on the analysis of whether the admissions were a 'thing of value.'"
Smith's attorney, J. Bruce Maffeo of Cozen O'Connor, said that he has worked with Jones in the past and appeared before her when she was a district court judge, adding that her inquiries to the union panel about the decision were not out of the ordinary. He said that he is confident that she will come to agree with the panel that the charges "could not be more overblown."
"Judge Jones is an experienced jurist and I am confident that she'll be able to come to a decision grounded in facts and view W.C. Smith's fifty-year career for what it is: there has never been a question of his integrity or his probity," Maffeo said. "I am sure the panel will be willing to answer the questions forthrightly."
The union did not respond to request for comment about the investigation, which remains a union dispute rather than criminal matter.
Union reformers have accused the panel's ruling as a "whitewash" of wrongdoing perpetrated by Hoffa allies. Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), an organization that has battled Hoffa in the past and encouraged changes to union leadership, praised Jones' ruling in a blog post.
"Judge Jones moves us one step closer to holding Willie Smith and [Teamsters International Vice President] Rome Aloise accountable for their part in the corruption-concessions connection," TDU said. "Smith should be planning for his retirement. With his multiple Teamster pensions, it should be a very comfortable one."
Jones gave the union 20 days to respond to the letter.