Former Teamsters president takes stand in fraud trial

The former president of Teamsters Local 743 appeared disoriented and frequently stumbled through his testimony yesterday against three of his former colleagues accused of stealing a 2004 union election.

On the witness stand, Robert Walston admitted trying to rig the election, and said he tried to stop the vote when he realized he would lose.

Walston also recounted his botched role in a large cocaine deal. And he told jurors about how he and defendant Thaddeus Bania, meticulously marked ballots in his kitchen, wearing latex gloves to eliminate any chance of leaving finger prints and sealing envelopes with moistened paper towels and sponges.

Walston did not, however, place Bania's codefendants, David Rodriguez  or Richard Lopez, anywhere near the ballots. During repeated questions from defense attorneys, Walston indicated that he had never seen neither Lopez nor Rodriguez handle any marked ballots.

Defense attorneys also made the point that Walston appeared to change his story after approaching investigators March 6 for a deal.

"You tell them one life after another," asked attorney Keith Spielfogel.

"Yes," Walston responded.

Spielfogel also noted that Watson faced a minimum of 10 years in prison for his role in the drug case, and several more in connection with the election tampering, according to Spielfogel.

Under the terms of his plea agreement, he faces a maximum of just over eight years in prison, and could get significantly less based on his cooperation with the government.

Staff Writer Fernando Diaz covers labor and unions for the Daily News. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 14, or fernando [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.