Labor Official Investigated For Fundraising Activities

On the political money trail, ABCNEWS’ Brian Ross looks at an AFL-CIO official suspected of making illegal contributions to the Democratic Party.

By Brian Ross LOS ANGELES, Aug. 15 — Despite the fact that he’s under investigation by the FBI in a major campaign money scandal, Richard Trumpka is playing a big role this week at the Democratic Convention.

Trumpka is the Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO.

“If I were advising a candidate,” says Charles LaBella, former head prosecutor for the Justice Department’s campaign-finance task force, “I would advise him or her very strongly that this not someone you want to embrace.”

Prosecutors say the investigation of Trumpka involves a complicated money-laundering scheme in which the Teamsters Union, with the help of certain Democratic Party consultants, essentially funnelled some $885,000 back and forth in 1996, in order to hide what would have been illegal contributions under federal labor laws.

We confronted Mr. Trumpka and asked him if he could give us the status of the grand jury investigation.

“Oh, come on, man,” he said. “There’s isn’t any, as far as I’m concerned.”

When asked if that meant there was no investigation, he walked away.

Others Implicated in Scheme

But authorities have told ABCNEWS the investigation is very much ongoing.

In court, testimony repeatedly implicated Trumpka as being deeply involved. But to the surprise of federal investigators, he has continued to play an active role in steering union money and support to the Gore campaign.

Later, when we asked Trumpka what he thought of his role, all he said was, “We’re excited about Al Gore and that we’re going to get him elected president.”

Not only is Trumpka active in the Gore campaign, but apparently so is one of the men actually convicted in the scheme: Michael Ansara, a political consultant in the Boston area.

According to Federal Election documents obtained by ABCNEWS, Ansara’s telemarketing firm has been paid $147,000 dollars by the Gore campaign in the last year — a relationship that continues even as he awaits sentencing for his felony conviction.

“The fact that it continues is troubling,” LaBella said. “And it says one of two things: That no one is paying attention or two, they don’t care.”

And there’s one final person here who was allegedly connected to the fund raising scheme: the chairman of this week’s convention, Democratic fund-raiser Terry McAuliffe.

Trial testimony identified McAuliffe as being fully aware of parts of the alleged scheme, although he denies any wrongdoing and is no longer considered a target of the investigation.

‘Corruption is Tolerated’ But for some, his prominent role here, and that of Ansara and Trumpka, sends the wrong message.

“Corruption is tolerated. Corruption is OK, even if you’re under a cloud for violating federal laws,” says Chuck Lewis, president of the Center for Public Integrity. “The vice president doesn’t seem to have a problem with it, so I guess it’s OK.”

Late today, as the Democrats gave Richard Trumpka the much sought after privilege of taking the podium and addressing convention delegates, a spokesman for the Gore campaign said only that Al Gore supports campaign finance reform.