It took four years, phone threats and sleepless nights, but Harry Bowers III and David McCormick are getting some justice. The two members of International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 988 in Houston have learned that the U.S. Attorney’s Office won an indictment against the former head of the union, Charles “Chuck” Crawley, on charges he’d rigged a union election, took a $20,000 kickback, and falsely recorded it in union records. “We file what we feel are the most serious and the most readily provable offenses,” said Donald DeGabrielle Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas.
Back in 2002 Bowers and McCormick went to the FBI with a list of allegations. The former business agents-organizers told federal investigators they had suspected Crawley and other local members of misappropriating union funds. These allegations led to an investigation by the FBI, the Teamsters international union, and the Independent Review Board, the three-man panel set up by the Justice Department in the wake of the IBT’s 1989 out-of-court settlement of a civil RICO suit. Eventually, the Teamsters changed the locks at the local’s union hall, and appointed a trustee to run things.
Whistleblowers Bowers and McCormick paid a price for their vigilance. Local 988 and Crawley sued them for defamation of character, based on their conversations with investigators. The suit was dropped, but it stuck the pair with $12,000 in legal bills. Meanwhile, Bowers received taunting phone calls in the middle of the night from an unidentified caller asking, “Are you sleeping good tonight, Harry?” McCormick had been warned by local members “to watch over his shoulder.” In the end, courage paid off. Other local members, believing McCormick and Bowers’ side of the story, joined them in a reform campaign called Corruption Out of Local 988, or COOL. McCormick is gratified the feds have issued an indictment, but in the meantime he’s out of a union job, selling cars to make a living.
Getting corruption out of Local 988 seems to have been a full-time job over the years. Crawley, ironically enough, had been elected president in 1997 as a reform candidate; his predecessor had been sent to prison for embezzling union funds. Crawley pleaded not guilty at his June 13 arraignment. His attorney, Ned Barnett, did not return telephone calls. (Houston Chronicle, 6/15/06).