Overnite’s RICO Suit Rolls On

The U.S. Dist. Court for the W. Dist. of Tenn. has given a green light to Overnite Trans. Co. to proceed with a federal racketeering suit naming Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters boss James P. Hoffa and other bosses as defendants. In the suit filed last year by the Richmond, Va.-based company, Hoffa, Nat’l Freight Director Philip E. Young and other members of the IBT Exec. Bd. were named as defendants alleging a host of illegal activities, including attempted murder.

Overnite, one the nation’s largest predominantly non-union carriers has been the target of an IBT job action since Oct. 1999.  Less than 5% of the firm’s 13,000 employees have followed IBT’s call to strike the firm. The job action, which has been marked by violence, has seen judges in 14 states issue retraining orders to curb union activity.

The 225-page suit, filed in Jan. 2000 under the Racketeer Influenced & Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, alleges a pattern of racketeering activities that includes over 50 “predicate acts” of attempted murder, destroying and vandalizing company and personal property and beating and threatening non-striking Overnite employees.  Under RICO, Overnite can recover treble damages and costs for injuries.

The dependents argued they should not be held responsible for the criminal activities because Overnite had failed to link them to the specific predicate acts. On Feb., 2001, the court rejected the argument noting that “RICO defendants are typically complex, hierarchical enterprises, where the offenses are perpetrated by ‘underlings’ at the direction of distant and removed ‘bosses’.”

As to Overnite’s specific allegations regarding attempted murder, the court found “Firing a gun at a truck driver on the highway may support the conclusion that the person doing the firing acted with an intent to kill. Similarly, dropping a cinder block from an overpass while a truck is passing beneath at highway speed or throwing a brick or rock at a truck’s windshield when it is traveling at highway speed may be found to constitute attempted murder … “

“We will vigorously litigate the 55 attempted murder claims the court has authorized Overnite to pursue,” said Overnite spokesman Ira Rosenfeld. In a section of the suit, the court departed from existing precedent under RICO in holding that the alleged criminal activities, short of attempted murder were not, in the strike context, among the racketeering activities prohibited by RICO. “The company remains confident that this limited portion of the court’s ruling will be overturned on appeal,” said Rosenfeld. [Overnite Trans. Co., Media Release 3/12/01]

Attorney Predicts Action on Money-Laundering Scandal
The Teamsters money-laundering scandal that led to the recent indictment of ex-boss Ron Carey, is consider to be one of the top emerging issues in labor law according a speaker at a continuing legal education course presented by the American Law Institute – American Bar Association Mar. 2, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Charles P. O’Connor, a partner with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in Washington, D.C., said an issue to watch is the ongoing investigation by a New York grand jury into an alleged Teamsters scheme to contribute to state Democratic parties in return for assistance from party officials in finding donors for Carey’s 1996 re-election campaign. That investigation “has sat on the back burner during the waning days of the Clinton administration,” he said, predicting that it will receive more attention in the future. [BNA 3/6/01]