James P. Hoffa declared himself vindicated Monday by a court-appointed monitor, who gave the son of the infamous labor leader the approval to run for president of the Teamsters.
Labor experts predict Hoffa is almost certain to win later this summer in an election against Ken Hall, director of the Teamsters' parcel delivery division and a key player in the strike last summer against United Parcel Service.
"This is a great day for me and for the Teamsters," Hoffa said Monday, kicking off his candidacy. "I've been cleared as a honest man who ran an honest campaign."
But while Hoffa was cleared of widespread cheating and campaign violations in the 1996 election, election officer Michael Cherkasky found his campaign guilty of various fund-raising infractions and ordered the campaign to pay $25,416 in fines.
Cherkasky also barred Richard Leebove of RL Communications, a Detroit public relations firm, and a Hoffa's spokesman from participating in the campaign because he failed to bill Hoffa for time valued at $167,675.
Leebove supplied authorities with damaging information about Hoffa opponents, including former Teamsters President Ron Carey. Carey has been barred from seeking re-election because of alleged improprieties, and has stepped down as president.
A federal grand jury in New York City has been reviewing information offered by Leebove and others about possible Teamsters corruption in the 1996 election between Carey and Hoffa. That grand jury on Monday, in an action not related to the Hoffa ruling, indicted William Hamilton Jr., the Teamsters' former governmental affairs director, on charges including embezzlement.
That grand jury is expected to decide soon if Carey or his other aides will be indicted for improperly using union money to fund Carey's narrow win over Hoffa. Three former campaign aides have pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy.
Cherkasky held Hoffa personally responsible for misreporting nearly $44,000 in donations, including a $1,000 check from a former Teamster president. Cherkasky said Hoffa's campaign records were "not complete or accurate."
Hoffa, in a news conference after the ruling, said only that "reporting mistakes may have been made."
Hoffa's opponent, Hall, used the ruling to declare: "I'm the only candidate in this race who wasn't part of any wrong-doing in the 1996 election."
Cherkasky, the election officer, came down hard on Hoffa for accepting $167,675 from Leebove for work offered during the campaign. Leebove billed Hoffa just $17,650 for his work for Hoffa. While he did not specify the work Leebove did, he ordered Hoffa to pay an additional fine of $16,767.