Picks and Pans Review: Mobbed Up

UPDATED 03/05/1990 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 03/05/1990 at 01:00 AM EST

by James Neff

Jackie Presser was a former car thief who became president of the Teamsters union in 1983. He was a welcomed guest in Ronald Reagan's White House.

Though, Neff says, Presser bribed or threatened anyone who failed to do business with his union, he apparently did so with the approval of the FBI, for whom he was a valuable informant (code-named ALPRO) from 1972 to 1985. This partnership with the FBI did not, however, prevent Presser from fortifying his union with the national muscle of organized crime, very often "electing" Teamsters delegates from among the Mob's ranks. Expert at compromise and manipulation, he was the embodiment of some skewed version of the American dream.

Presser, grossly overweight, with a taste for rich food and women of any background, learned his lessons from a master player—his father, Teamsters hotshot "Big Bill" Presser. Bill managed to pass on his position on the Teamsters executive board to his inexperienced son Jackie. Seven years later Jackie was elected president of the union and stayed in the post until he died from cancer on July 9, 1988.

Mobbed Up is exhaustively researched and as memorable as Steven Brill's The Teamsters. Neff, a senior editor for Cleveland magazine, makes a number of damaging charges throughout the book, all of them backed up by documentation. Neff pieces the stories together until they deliver an indictment against both the Teamsters and the Justice Department's attempts to stem the corruption. Such is the extent of the covert transactions outlined in chapter after chapter that the lines between the FBI and organized crime become a blur, with the politicians in the middle, dancing to everyone's tune. Joseph P. Kennedy used to tell his sons, "Everybody does business with everybody." Mobbed Up is proof of the disheartening realities behind the phrase. (Atlantic Monthly, $22.95)

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