Rent by charges of corruption and ineffective representation, Teamsters Local 988 may be driving itself to destruction

But as Hammond explains the various purchases and withdrawals that are the heart of the indictment, it's clear his arguments have some gaping holes, though he says they'll be filled by the time he goes to trial (which is currently slated for November 5 but likely will be postponed until the new year).

Most shaky is his defense of the $24,320 in checks he wrote himself between June 1994 and September 1995 from the Teamsters DRIVE (Democrat and Republican Independent Voter Education) political action fund, which is stocked by voluntary member contributions. Hammond says that he deposited the checks in his personal bank account, then withdrew the same amounts in cash, which he distributed to judges and other candidates. The largest totaled $11,500.

Hammond argues that it's standard practice to give candidates cash, though such contributions would be illegal if they exceeded $100, even if they were disclosed in campaign finance reports. As Hammond told the panel at his internal union hearing in May, "It may not be legal, but it's a fact of life." And he says that he's unwilling to disclose the names of those candidates because they've been supportive of the Teamsters and he doesn't want to compromise them: "There's politicians, good people, that I'd rather not be involved with this."

Besides, Hammond claims, all the names of the candidates and the amounts they received were contained in a blue binder that was in the local's office when the trusteeship was imposed, a point he plans to make at trial. "There's at least three other people who knew it was there," he says.

The indictment charges that an additional $19,300 in DRIVE money was spent to maintain hunting leases for Hammond's use. An avid hunter, he says the money was a legitimate political expense, that he entertained various candidates and elected officials and thereby kept the Teamster name fresh and positive in their minds. Asked at the internal union hearing in May about a $6,000 payout to "The Game Preserve," Hammond replied that judges and state and county officials were taken there "so that we would have close association with those individuals."

Also difficult to defend will be Hammond's draining of a union Health and Welfare Trust Fund. Endowed by employer contributions and intended for distribution to workers to reimburse medical claims, the fund had been inactive since 1982 but still had more than $90,000 in it when Hammond fired the previous administrator, Floyd Forrest, in 1990. He paid himself a salary of $1,200 a month, about the same as Forrest had been paid, until the fund was empty.

Hammond insists that the payments, which were made in irregular installments ranging from $500 to $6,000, were perfectly legal. "We were paying somebody else to do it," he explains, and as local president he was the logical, if not the only, person who could assume the role of administrator after Forrest was fired. The irregular amounts, he says, covered expenses he paid from his own bank account to accountants and others who worked on the fund's books. That explanation seems a stretch, especially in light of the fact that Hammond paid himself more than $20,000 the first two months he was in charge.

Hammond may have a hard time justifying his self-appointment as legally valid. According to International Teamsters spokeswoman Nancy Stella, such a move would violate the federal Employee Retirement Income Securities Act, designed in part to protect such funds from plunder. In 1988, a court ruled that former Chicago Teamster boss Daniel Ligurotis had to give back $120,000 he paid himself to administer a Health and Welfare and another fund.

The allegations that Hammond rang up thousands of dollars in personal expenses on the local's American Express card may be tougher for the government to prove. From Jim Buck's sweeping laundry list that topped $190,000, the indictment has narrowed the amount to a little more than $66,000, though prosecutors have yet to release the list of exactly which $66,000 is at issue. Hammond says most of the hunting and electronic gear that makes up the bulk of the items purchased with the card was either given away at meetings or donated to area hunting groups as charitable contributions.

But while Hammond will produce witnesses to testify about multiple giveaways of guns, clothing and accessories, including a semiautomatic pistol, he may have a hard time convincing the jury that other charges were legitimate. Topping the list are $12,000 worth of repairs to cars registered to family members. Hammond says he used their vehicles on union business and paid for repairs resulting from that use. Why not use his own car? "There's been times you use different automobiles than you normally would use," he says vaguely.

Hammond did admit to running up one personal expense on the local's AmEx card, a trophy he ordered to commemorate his slaying of a rare grouse on a hunting trip to Siberia. He calls that charge an "accident."

And while not part of the indictment, the question of computer files may weigh negatively on Hammond's credibility. When trustee Jim Buck attempted to gain access to data on Hammond's desktop and laptop computers as well as several others at the union hall, he found his path blocked. According to Buck, an analysis showed that many of the files had been purposely deleted. Hammond says that he inadvertently erased files on his and another linked computer when he "attempted to install Windows [95] without doing something right, and I screwed it up." The glitch happened several days before the trusteeship was imposed, he says, and if any data was erased, it was probably Buck's doing. "When they say they lost all this information, that's bullshit."

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