Embezzlement and Excess
Unions of education employees are no different from those representing miners, truck drivers, or service workers,—especially when it comes to the threat of embezzlement by union leaders. Local teachers unions are generally exempt from the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, under which labor unions must make their finances public, and the lack of government oversight, internal checks and transparency to members makes it all too easy to raid the union treasury for personal profit.
Unscrupulous leaders at the top of the union hierarchy have a relatively free hand when it comes to spending members' dues. In November 2011, Pat Santeramo, the head of the Broward Teachers Union, was placed under investigation for having misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars in union funds—and potentially violating federal election laws. An audit uncovered $129,000 in credit card expenses that could not be accounted for during the two years prior to the investigation. Between 2002 and 2010, it was revealed that Santeramo's salary increased by 50 percent. He and his wife purchased three homes. He was also overpaid by about $30,000 over seven years. Perhaps most damningly of all, it was revealed that Santeramo had reimbursed union employees and their families $19,500 for campaign contributions to Democratic politicians.
Florida isn't the only site of corruption, of course. In Butte, Montana, for example, the president of the AFT Local Union 5095 stole $7,700 from the organization in 2009. In Philadelphia, the Treasurer of Local Union 3845 of the AFT pled guilty to six counts of embezzling that same year for stealing more than $40,000 from the organizations between 2002 and 2008. That wasn't the limit of the shadiness in Philadelphia: The treasurer of the AFT local at Woodhaven Center in Northeast Philadelphia also pled guilty to embezzling in 2009. She stole $17,800.
There’s no shortage of union officials who have been found dipping into member dues for their own gain. In Nyack, New York, the treasurer of the teacher’s aide’s union stole more than $13,000; in Bangor, Maine, the president of the Teachers, AFL-CIO, Downeast Federation of Healthcare Professionals pled guilty to embezzling $33,000; a secretary of a Michigan teachers union illegally secured a $29,000 loan against the union’s treasury with forged signatures and falsified documents.
But these violations are small potatoes, relatively speaking. Let’s look at some real criminal masterminds:
Between 1995 and 2002, for example, the Washington Teachers’ Union president, treasurer, and a handful of others conspired to bilk union members of $5 million, amounting to about $1,000 taken from each member. A federal judge described the WTU’s oversight by its parent, the American Federation of Teachers, this way: “It seems everyone in a responsible position fell asleep at the switch.”
Lack of oversight and accountability also creates embezzlement stories like the case of United Teachers of Dade (Miami’s teachers union), where union president Pat Tornillo was found to have stolen over $2.5 million of members’ dues money. The FBI raided the union’s offices in 2003, but the problem might have come to light much earlier if UTD’s state or national parent unions had disclosed the organization’s financial distress on their own.
As finance director of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Richard Anzivino was able to steal over $800,000 to feed a gambling habit, a crime which prompted one local president to sarcastically tell the Boston Herald in 2003: “I only had one question from my members: was it fast women or slow horses?”
As these examples — all from just 2002 or later — illustrate, embezzlement is hardly unknown in teachers unions that promote secrecy and fight disclosure at every turn.