James O. Baxter II, a mastermind of the Washington Teachers Union scheme that ripped off at least $4.6 million from dues-paying members during 1995-2002, learned his fate in federal court on June 5. And unlike his recently-sentenced partner in crime, former WTU office manager Gwendolyn Hemphill, he didn’t try to cop an insanity plea. Baxter will have to serve 10 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised probation and 900 hours of community service. He’ll also have to make more than $4.2 million in restitution. Last August 31, Baxter was found guilty along with Hemphill on 23 separate counts, including embezzlement, conspiracy, mail fraud and money laundering.
In the meantime, it’s going to take a while for the current union leadership to climb out of the financial hole left by its predecessors. Its fiscal year 2005 Department of Labor financial disclosure report revealed it to be in debt by $609,910 compared to the previous year’s $682,913 – a noticeable, but far from dramatic improvement. An initial report had been rejected by the DOL field office for undisclosed shortcomings. Union President George Parker added that since that time the local’s operating deficit has dipped further to around $400,000. “They’ve got their finances under control,” said Alex Wohl, a spokesman for the WTU’s parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers. In the meantime the union still faces falling ranks. In the most recent year, its member teachers numbered 4,128, down from around 4,500. (Washington Times, 6/2/06; OLMS, 6/13/06).