Roy Lee Williams, who rose from trucker to international Teamsters president, died at his farm home Friday, seven months after his release from a prison term for conspiring to bribe a U.S. senator. He was 74.
Williams had been in poor health for years with emphysema and an enlarged heart and died just hours after a doctor was called to the house.Williams, a protege of former Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa, served as president from 1981-83. He was forced to resign the presidency to delay the start of a 10-year sentence following his conviction with four other men for attempting to bribe then-Sen. Howard Cannon of Nevada to influence trucking deregulation.
Danny Johnson, who now holds positions once held by Williams as president of Teamsters Joint Council 56 and Local 41 in Kansas City, praised his former boss.
"Roy Williams was the best thing to happen to the Teamsters outside of Jimmy Hoffa," Johnson said Friday. "There's been a lot of bad publicity about him, and maybe some of it rightly so. But he went to jail for trying to keep out deregulation, which has eliminated over 160,000 Teamster jobs."
"You couldn't ask for a better man, as a Teamster, as someone that cared about his members, and as a leader of that movement," Johnson said.
Williams testified at a casino skimming trial in Kansas City that he had been on the payroll of the mob and under the domination of Nick Civella, the late Kansas City crime boss. He said he received $1,500 a month from late 1974, when he was a local Teamster president, until mid-1981 when he was elected international vice president.
Williams' testimony in that trial and other racketeering cases was designed to get his sentence - originally set at 55 years - reduced and to get him out of prison early. He continued to cooperate with the government after his release last September from the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Mo.
Williams always maintained his innocence and said he was set up in the bribery case. He also said that he cooperated with the mob after the lives of his family members had been threatened by Civella's henchmen.
"I am still just an old truck driver at heart," he said in a January interview. "It's over now, and I am glad of it."