Joshua Lutz’s Meadowlands; ‘Art of the Royal Court’ at the Met; ‘Frick’s Vermeers Reunited’

The 50 large-format photographs in this fascinating volume about New Jersey’s Meadowlands have no captions or explanations beyond an introduction by nature writer Robert Sullivan (if authoring the tome Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants counts as writing about nature). Sullivan’s observation that “the Meadowlands is a morbid place, no matter how sunny things get” sets the tone for this visual essay that began 10 years ago, ostensibly as a search for Jimmy Hoffa’s remains. What Lutz discovered instead, amid the 32 square miles of haphazardly developed swamp, were such trenchant images as a jet taking off from Newark airport—a blurred streak between fall-tinted willow leaves and a shiny cell-phone tower. Nature constantly jousts with man-made structures in these photos of concrete and steel geometries assailed by scrubby trees and rust. Although the Teamster boss is nowhere to be found, plenty of lost souls are captured by Lutz’s lens. A priest traipses through waist-high weeds, though whether he’s in search of the body in the mud of another photograph or is some vague perp himself pretty much depends on your mood. A pink neon sign for the Delayed Cares Motel might be a chapter heading for this photographic novel; the parking lot is mostly empty, but other shots—of a sullen blonde ignoring the man in the bed beside her, or of a pregnant girl staring at a gas station from her motel-room door—imply that cares can be put off for only so long. And then there’s a young woman with stout R. Crumb legs and a miniskirt leaning into the driver’s-side window of a black Audi; the action happens in the middle distance, as if caught on an FBI surveillance tape, on a stretch of road running through rubble-clotted landfill. All grays and browns, it’s as if the ground itself has developed mesothelioma. While the deadpan vistas of past-their-prime liquor stores and YMCAs recall Stephen Shore’s road trips and the fraught liaisons suggest Jeff Wall’s staged dramas, Lutz also simply allows the Garden State’s enervated weirdness to star as itself. A summer throng mills about Giants Stadium, but the stage is cropped out in favor of lighting rigs and speaker towers—whether the act is Springsteen or Bon Jovi, there seems little doubt the Sopranos are skimming a piece of the gate.

‘Art of the Royal Court’

Fabricated from pietre dure (an Italian term for carving stone), the works here straddle a fault line between kitsch and eloquent artistry. A small sphinx, somewhat battered from its roughly 4,000-year existence, offers a pharaoh’s distinctive, stern visage, his crouched lion’s body radiating an energy that belies the solid rock it’s carved from. Compare this sublime piece of royal propaganda to a relief portrait of Cosimo II de’ Medici, inlaid with gold and precious stones, which feels like something from the Home Shopping Network, Baroque Division. Other artists deeply appreciated the innate, abstract quality of their natural materials, such as the Florentine craftsmen who framed unadorned slabs of veined marble as fantastical landscapes. While a 1797 still-life fabricated from Egyptian nephrite astonishes with accurate shading and vibrant color, it feels labored compared to a competent oil painting of the same subject hanging nearby. The best works here let the intrinsic color and texture of various stones shine through, rather than force them into clumsy verisimilitude. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, 212-535-7710. Through September 21.

‘Frick’s Vermeers Reunited’

A girl in a white bonnet flashes an apple-cheeked smile at the red-coated officer regaling her with tales of adventure. Part of the drama, as always with Vermeer (1632–1675), is the naturalistic light suffusing every surface as it carves out quietly dazzling compositions. The diamond pattern of lead-paned windows is repeated in the girl’s chair, keynoting a geometric web of objects that impart vibrant life to domestic mundanity. Officer and Laughing Girl (c. 1657) and Girl Interrupted at Her Music (1658-59) flank the larger Mistress and Maid (1666-67). Newly hung next to each other, these three canvases represent a substantial portion of the 35 or so works attributed to the painter, who left his surviving wife and 11 children in dire debt because of his losses as an art dealer. Many critics have come around to the view that Vermeer used a camera obscura to help define his imagery; perhaps that explains the almost crystalline focus of the pearls zigzagging through the mistress’s hair, a high-spirited detail that complements a crimson ribbon bisecting her lap, the slash of hot color giving credence to one interpretation that the maid is delivering a love letter. Regardless, the knot of ermine trim, ruffled yellow sleeves, and bare arms creates a tension that transforms these simple scenes into tableaux of Shakespearean complexity. The Frick Collection, 1 E 70th, 212-288-0700. Through November 2.


Bush’s New Best Friend

Just before the Labor Day weekend, former Teamsters union president Ron Carey walked into the new federal courthouse on Pearl Street and drew up a chair at the defense table in courtroom 20B, where he is on trial for perjury.

An ex-marine and former truck driver from Queens who led his union out of a morass of mob-tied corruption before falling into disgrace himself, Carey sat grimly erect as government prosecutors told a jury that he had lied about his knowledge of an illegal fundraising scheme for his 1996 reelection campaign.

Carey’s downfall came four years ago when evidence surfaced that campaign aides had run a bait and switch operation, using almost $900,000 in union funds to raise illegal contributions to pay for campaign mailings. Carey’s narrow victory over opponent James P. Hoffa, son of the union’s most notorious leader and designated standard-bearer for old-guard Teamsters furious over Carey’s administration, was overturned; Carey was barred from the rerun election and later expelled from the union. In January, he was indicted for lying about what he knew about the fundraising scheme.

The collapse of Carey and the reform effort he nominally represented has echoed throughout the labor movement, rippling into national politics as well. The fallout was in clear evidence on Labor Day when George W. Bush, eagerly in search of union friends, flew up to Michigan to enjoy a Labor Day barbecue picnic with the state’s Teamster leadership. While there he singled out current Teamsters president Hoffa for unusual praise. “You’ve got a good man running the Teamsters in Jimmy Hoffa,” said Bush. “He’s running a good union and in an aboveboard way.” In case no one heard him the first time, he said it again: “An aboveboard way.”

“And make no mistake about it,” he told the unionists. “People are beginning to notice, particularly in Washington, D.C.”

Bush’s words were a twin blessing for Hoffa. One was a ringing endorsement for the Teamsters leader who is in the midst of a reelection campaign against Tom Leedham, a former warehouse worker from Oregon once closely allied with Carey. Hoffa is heavily favored, but Leedham, then almost completely unknown, won 40 percent of the vote in the rerun 1998 race, and this year’s contest has Hoffa supporters nervous.

Bush also uttered the most encouraging sounds heard so far from the White House about its attitude toward Hoffa’s most cherished goal, that of getting the Teamsters out from under the federal court and the Justice Department supervision that began in 1989.

The kind words didn’t just jump into the president’s mouth. In the weeks prior to Bush’s visit, the Teamsters made an all-out push in Congress to support the administration’s call to open Arctic wildlife preserves to oil drilling, insisting it would create good-paying jobs for union members. Republicans were especially cheered by the Teamster lobbying because last year the union gave its endorsement, albeit late in the race and only halfheartedly, to Al Gore. It has also quarreled with the administration about rules allowing Mexican trucks north of the border.

At 1.4 million members, the Teamsters are still the largest, mostly private-sector union in the country, and they exert even more clout through their vaunted $3 million political action committee. Upon taking office, Hoffa made a point of stating that he would break with Carey’s strong alliance with the Democrats, saying the previous administration used the union as “an ATM for the Democratic Party.”

The possibility that Republicans might peel away the Teamsters from the Democratic column has conservatives panting. Hoffa’s biggest media advocate has long been the otherwise antilabor, right-wing columnist Robert Novak. Last week Novak cheered Bush’s Teamster visit and reported additional Bush comments. “I don’t know why we just don’t end it,” Bush reportedly said regarding the government’s oversight of the union. Told that the matter was being handled by U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, Bush commented, according to Novak, “Isn’t she a [Clinton administration] holdover?”

It was the second Novak swipe at White in as many months. In August, he called for White’s removal, saying she had blocked the appointment of ex-prosecutor and TV pundit Joseph diGenova, as a new government appointee to the three-member Independent Review Board, which oversees the union. DiGenova, who investigated Carey in 1998 for House Republicans, “might recommend that it is time to end the monitoring,” wrote Novak. Hoffa later named diGenova, whose biggest lobbying client is the American Hospital Association, as the union’s own representative to the board.

But Bush and Hoffa are apparently on the same page regarding White. In a September 2 interview with The Detroit News, Hoffa said of White: “We’ve got this U.S. attorney who I think has been very unrealistic in terms of negotiations.”

White’s office, which is conducting the Carey trial, declined comment. But the Teamsters cleanup effort has defied easy political categories. The original civil racketeering lawsuit against the Teamsters Union was launched by a Republican prosecutor, Rudy Giuliani, and approved by a Republican-run Justice Department under then president George H. Bush. At the time, Democrats and labor leaders condemned the legal attack as antilabor. But the lawsuit described the Teamsters in harsh and accurate language as having made a “devil’s deal” with the mob.

Today, even by the toughest measurement, the union is a wholly different organization, and Hoffa has created his own program, called RISE, which he wants to install as his own internal watchdog apparatus while Teamster officials make disciplinary decisions on other Teamsters. White, according to sources, wants the union to adopt a plan similar to that of the Laborers union where leaders agreed to have an outside investigator and hearing officer.

But Hoffa’s plea wasn’t helped by charges filed in May by the Independent Review Board against one of his former top aides and the Teamsters leader in Chicago for allegedly trying to bulldoze a Las Vegas Teamsters local into giving a sweetheart labor deal to a contractor. Hoffa later denounced the deal, but Leedham’s backers have cited the charges as proof that the union under Hoffa is still vulnerable to the kind of corruption that plagued it in the past.

When it comes to recent corruption, however, Hoffa has kept up a steady drumbeat against the ousted Carey regime, pointing to the conviction of six former Carey aides on charges stemming from the illegal fundraising scheme and the perjury indictment of the former White Knight himself.

Carey’s conviction on the criminal charges, however, is far from a sure thing. At the end of more than a week’s testimony, the prosecution’s witnesses had done little to show the former president was aware of the scheme. The key witness, former Carey campaign manager Jere Nash, was only able to point to a single momentary telephone conversation with Carey in which he claimed he explained how the union’s contributions to several nonprofit organizations would in turn lead to campaign gifts. Another witness, former Teamsters governmental affairs director William Hamilton, who is now serving a three-year sentence, testifying under subpoena, stated that Carey expressed puzzlement at one point at the large contributions to the nonprofits, asking Hamilton: “Why are we spending all this money?”

Carey’s contention is that he was duped by a group of smooth-talking political consultants and upon learning of the scheme he ordered a thorough, no-holds-barred investigation. But even if the jury accepts that explanation, it will do little to restore Carey’s image as a fearless reformer. History’s judgment would be that, while not corrupt, he was so out of touch as a leader that he never noticed nearly a million dollars being siphoned out of the union.

What’s becoming clearer, however, is that the White House is showing more interest in the Teamster union’s political preferences than its cleanup.

From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES show-old-images THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

The Billion-Dollar Reason for Jimmy Hoffa’s Disappearance

The Billion-Dollar Reason for Hoffa’s Disappearance
September 8, 1975

Shortly after Jimmy Hoffa van­ished, a newspaper colleague for whose intelligence I have the utmost respect commented from across the lunch table, “I don’t know why I should care whether he’s dead or not. They’re all crooks anyway.”

What she was saying, in effect, was that the black headline across the front of the Daily News that morning (FBI SAYS HOFFA DREW $IM CASH) was just the News’s standard police trivia, appealing to the same readers for the same reasons as the front page headline the next day (GUNMAN, MOLL SLAIN BY COP).

But several important facts ele­vate the Hoffa case from that of the unfortunate but forgettable man and moll who were interrupted in mid bank robbery.

First, Mr. Hoffa’s pending return to Teamster politics threatened to obstruct the Mafia’s drain on the union’s multibillion-dollar financial holdings — or else, why would he have vanished? In all probability, either the hoods he was meeting for lunch the day he disappeared came to that conclusion and set him up, or Mr. Hoffa figured they were about to come to that conclusion and took it on the lam, or, if you like long shots, the Justice Department figured somebody was about to come to that conclusion and sequestered Mr. Hoffa.

[related_posts post_id_1=”718628″ /]

Twice in the year before Mr. Hoffa disappeared, the Justice Department was told by an emissary that Mr. Hoffa was willing to supply information that would “get” his rival, Teamster boss Frank Fitzsim­mons, according to a senior official of a large U.S. attorney’s office, who says the emissary approached him personally. The official, who had been involved in investigating the union and who says he thinks Mr. Hoffa is dead now, asks not to be identified. He will identify the emis­sary only as a “reputable, respected member of the media.” And he says the offer was turned down.

Second, merely the ability of the mob to remove from activity some­one as important as Jimmy Hoffa and get away with it would signify that in 1975, nearly 20 years after Robert Kennedy’s Senate hearings exposed Teamster corruption, the mob retains undiminished access to the union vault and still feels free to defy society and its laws with impunity.

Third, the $100 million deals that Teamster leaders transact with all sorts of suspicious characters are of a size beyond the imagination of most bank chairmen, let alone most bank robbers.

Moreover, the Teamster money is not merely being stolen by one set of crooks from another. Nor, ultimate­ly, is it even being stolen from union workers or their bosses. The majori­ty, though by no means all, of the 2.2 million Teamsters have in one way or another acquiesced in these she­nanigans, and could, with a real will, stop them. The same could be said of their employers.

[related_posts post_id_1=”13270″ /]

When you get right down to it, the money is being stolen from every one of us who ever buys anything, any part of which was ever shipped by truck or loaded in a warehouse. And to ignore what happened to Jimmy Hoffa would be to join the Teamsters and their employers in institution­alizing this thievery. (Actually, the pool of victims is expanding, as the Teamsters’ latest image-building ad campaign points out; victims now include drinkers of Gallo wine, patrons of certain telephone systems, and even the taxpayers of Michigan, some of whose state police just voted to join up.)

What separates Jimmy Hoffa from his rivals for power in the union is that Mr. Hoffa long has had the personal loyalty of hundreds of thou­sands of rank and file teamsters. Most of these Teamsters know very well that Mr. Hoffa has helped de­fraud their pension fund of enormous sums. They know he went to prison for it.

But they also know that what they have left over after he and his col­leagues have finished stealing is still more than they ever had before Jimmy Hoffa built their brotherhood into America’s most powerful union. They are grateful.

The employers of these men aren’t blind either. They have purchased union stability, labor peace, and even a share of the pension fund action, all at the price of simple in­tegrity.

The money for this industrial coziness is coming from us.

[related_posts post_id_1=”717604″ /]

Every week the employers of Teamster members pay a contribu­tion in lieu of salary into one of 200 union-connected pension funds. The biggest group of these workers, truckers covered by the master freight agreement, are supposed beneficiaries of contributions of $22 a week for each employee. The largest of the funds — the Central States, Southeast, and Southwest Areas pension fund, headquartered in Chicago — takes in about $400 million a year. Its reported assets exceed $1.3 billion.

This is the fund that Mr. Hoffa was a trustee of when he was interna­tional president of the Teamsters. It is the fund that he went to prison for defrauding, and the fund that his successor and rival, Frank Fitzsimmons, is a trustee of now.

Such funds aren’t required to disclose much about themselves to the public or to their members (even under the so-called Pension Reform Act of 1974), and the Central States fund has always gone to great lengths to keep its records secret. Information about how it handles its money has leaked out much more slowly than the money itself.

Several years ago, however, the fund was required to turn over a list of its investments to a federal court in connection with a lawsuit fired by a Teamster dissident. Although this investment list was sealed by the court at the union’s request and thus kept from public inspection, copies of it were obtained by Overdrive, a West Coast trucking magazine, and by the Wall Street Journal, both of which have recently published series of articles based in large part on its contents.

The records showed that some 89 per cent of the fund’s money was invested in real estate loans to businesses — against less than 5 per cent for the average similar fund; that many of these businesses seemed to have little other source of financing; and that a shocking 36.5 per cent of the money thus invested was in loans that already had gone delinquent or had been foreclosed, with indications that a lot more could wind up the same way.

Many loans have been made to companies owned by mobsters and their cronies; to companies at least partly owned by lawyers, consul­tants, or other insiders who help run the fund itself; and to companies employing Teamster workers. The union has on occasion refused to support its members in labor disputes with employers who have outstanding loans from the fund.

[related_posts post_id_1=”717345″ /]

Mr. Hoffa was deeply involved in the channeling of union money to crime figures beginning with his rise to power in the Chicago-based Cen­tral Conference of Teamsters 25 years ago. The head of a Detroit local, he needed a power source in Chicago and found one in Paul “Red” Dorfman. Mr. Dorfman was a leader of the Chicago Waste Handlers Union (until later expelled by the AFL-CIO for misuse of funds) and a close ally of racketeers since the Capone era.

When Mr. Hoffa took power in the Central Conference of Teamsters, he immediately switched its group insurance business, which exceeded $10 million a year even in those days, away from a large, reputable company and over to a small one, whose general agent, just appointed, was Red Dorfman’s son Allen. Allen Dorfman and his friends prospered accordingly.

Young Dorfman became Mr. Hoffa’s right arm in pension-fund matters when the fund was estab­lished in 1955. He not only held its insurance business and was assigned to monitor the insurance needs of borrowers, he also was the man to see if you wanted a loan, and he stayed on as such after Mr. Hoffa began his prison term.

Mr. Dorfman sometimes acquired land in development projects that the fund was financing, or stock in a company that borrowed millions of dollars from the fund. He has sold such stock at a high personal profit before the borrowing company re­paid much of its loan. He and other insiders have taken over a company in default to the fund, sold it at hundreds of thousands of dollars profit without repaying the fund, and arranged for the fund to transfer the unpaid mortgage debt to the new buyers.

Sometimes through arrangements made by Mr. Dorfman and sometimes not, the fund loaned millions of dollars to companies that were asso­ciated then or soon afterward with mobsters. Among the men involved in fund-financed projects who have been identified as prominent racketeers by government agencies and the press are Anthony “Tough Tony” Spilotro, Joseph “The Clown” Lombardo, Andrew Lococo, Michael “Big Mike” Polizzi, Louis “Lou the Tailor” Rosanova, and even the notorious, confessed torture-murderer Felix “Milwaukee Phil” Alderisio.

Millions of dollars from such loans weren’t repaid on time if at all.

[related_posts post_id_1=”718120″ /]

The fund also has created controversy with its bizarre concentrations of loans. Las Vegas, for, example, is largely built with Teamster money, hundreds of millions of dollars of it. Much of the original investment was channeled through Morris “Moe” Dalitz, identified in congressional testimony as a bootlegging and gambling figure from Cleveland from decades ago. Mr. Dalitz bowed out of the Nevada business, though he stayed a part of the fund’s $57 million investment in the lavish La Costa resort and land development near San Diego, which is patronized in large part by union insiders and their cronies.

Nevada gaming authorities have been requiring clean records for casino operators there, so lately the Teamster investments have been channeled through men like Morris Shenker, long Mr. Hoffa’s lawyer, and Allen R. Glick, who, barely 30, rose meteorically from being an employee of a San Diego real estate firm to authority over more than $100 million in pension-fund investments.

Mr. Shenker also was a central figure in the biggest fund loan of all, some $116 million–$140 million to the Penasquitos land development project, in Southern California. The loan was foreclosed with barely $5 million repaid. The pension fund now owns the 16,000 mostly undeveloped acres in the project, and as in so many other cases nobody has accounted publicly for the money.

With all this cash going out, one might wonder how the fund pays its pensions. The answer is, it often doesn’t.

The fund won’t disclose how many men apply for pensions and how many are turned down, but it’s not hard to sit at a phone and locate dozens of Teamsters and former Teamsters who say they have been gypped out of pensions they believe they are entitled to. Mostly, their cases involve loopholes that are written into the fund rules. Most Teamsters apparently aren’t aware of these loopholes until it’s too late.

After a four-to-six month wait for the fund to process their applications, pension seekers often are told that they must prove they have 20 years of industry credit. In an industry like trucking, made up of many small companies that go in and out of business fast, satisfactory records often are unavailable. The fund itself would be best able to keep them, but it says it doesn’t.

[related_posts post_id_1=”718520″ /]

For example, one Florida retiree wasn’t approved for a pension, apparently on the grounds that his work time in the 1950s with an Ohio firm, long out of business, wasn’t adequately verified. He submitted an employee identification card and a photograph of him driving a company truck, but his application was returned with only the cryptic explanation, “The attached papers are being returned to you.”

When he persisted, the fund wrote back many months later, “Kindly be advised that affidavits must be submitted from fellow workers, owners, or supervisors. These affidavits must include the type of work you did, the number of years you worked, and the number of hours worked per year. You may also submit your check stubs.” None of this documentation can be obtained now, the retiree says.

Other pension applicants are stunned to learn of the so-called break-in-service provision, under which, if a Teamster spends three years in other work, all prior pension credits are eliminated. Many truckers seek factory work during hard times in the hauling business, and then go back to trucking, now knowing that they are starting over on their 20-year pension service.

Many others spend a few years driving rigs that they are trying to buy under installment contracts such “owner-operators” still must maintain union membership, but the fund counts this time as a break in employee service. Often the installment contracts don’t work out and the driver goes back to salaried work, only to discover years later that he has lost his pension rights.

Moreover, many of the 200 pension plans don’t have reciprocal credit agreements with each other or with the big Central States fund. Truckers, in the course of their jobs, often must transfer from a local covered by one plan to a local cov­ered by another, and thus, without realizing it at the time, lose their pension rights.

Occasionally an individual Teamster has gone to court and won the right to his pension, but dissident groups have never been successful in overthrowing the way the fund is run. The union always goes first­-class on legal protection, and law­yers for dissident members, usually operating without fee or on contingency, run out of patience fast when faced by mountains of technical motions and other delaying tactics filed by the union’s high-powered law firms.

All of this, of course, works to the pleasure of the union leaders and the mob. When Mr. Hoffa, who did much to organize the system, went to jail, apprehension must have rippled through the Mafia beneficiaries of the union’s largess. But under Mr. Fitzsimmons, apparently nothing has gone awry.

[related_posts post_id_1=”718606″ /]

Most impressive, when Allen Dorfman was forced to resign as “special consultant” to the fund in 1972 because he was on his way to jail for taking a $55,000 bribe in the award of a loan (he served less than a year), affairs continued to flow smoothly. (Interestingly, Mr. Dorfman went out of sight last month about the same time Mr. Hoffa did. His family and office say he’s traveling in Europe and can’t be reached.)

Like Theodore Roosevelt retiring from the White House in 1908, Mr. Hoffa on his way to jail had picked as his successor a weak man, a flunky, who could be expected to yield power on request. But as with Mr. Roosevelt, Mr. Hoffa decided later that he had chosen wrong, and felt constrained to launch what was in effect a third- (in this case, second-) party movement.

The mob may well have decided that a campaign between Messrs. Hoffa and Fitzsimmons could only cause trouble. Harmful charges might inevitable have leaked out even if both candidates tried to remain loyal to the system. But there was also the possibility that Mr. Hoffa would have stopped at nothing to regain power, and the possibility is based on more than mere speculation.

Friends of Mr. Hoffa have been arguing that the last thing in the world they would expect him to do would be to turn to the government with evidence about Teamster corruption. But the Justice Department official who told of being approached by an intermediary says otherwise.

The official says he declined to pursue the offer of information from Mr. Hoffa for two reasons. In general, he says, the Justice Department doesn’t want to be used as an in­strument to help individuals “get” their enemies. And in particular, the offers came when the department was near trial in a major criminal case over an alleged plot to defraud the Central States pension fund of $1.4 million. Among the seven defendants in the case were two trustees of the fund and Messrs. Dorfman, Spilotro, and Lombardo. Prosecu­tors feared that the offer from Mr. Hoffa, if accepted, might somehow, compromise the prosecution of that case, the winning of which was con­sidered crucial to forcing changes in the fund administration.

The case was tried this spring for 10 weeks. One of the government’s two star witnesses, a businessman who had helped the alleged plotters and then had agreed to cooperate with the prosecution, was shotgunned to death shortly before the trial. The judge ruled out any evidence about the shooting, or about the defendants’ backgrounds, and the jury never learned the checkered history of the pension fund.

The defendants were supported not only by some of the best legal counsel in the country, but also by Arthur Young & Co., the large accounting firm, which apparently was paid $150,000 in pension-fund money (channeled indirectly through the defense law firms) to prepare, belatedly, well-balanced books for the mobster-run company that defaulted on its $1.4 million loan.

All seven defendants were acquit­ted.