What kind of person would lift a bag containing more than $10,000 in cash from a deceased individual’s apartment? It’s probably the same kind of person who would steal more than $17,000 from a labor union. Lori A. Sommers was one of two persons charged in Dane County (Wisconsin) Circuit Court on April 9 with felony theft from a public employees’ union. Sommers, 43, a housing manager for the City of Madison’s Community Development Authority (CDA), and a colleague, Tracy Shultz, 37, were accused of conspiring to commit theft from American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 60, also based in Madison. Sommers had been treasurer of the union during 2002-05. Shultz, also known as Tracy Woodward, during 2003-06 had been a union secretary, and is currently an administrative clerk with the CDA.
Sommers and Shultz are charged with ripping off the AFSCME local of slightly more than $17,000 during 2004-05. The thefts took many forms, as did their purposes. About $7,000 represented money that Shultz paid herself for putting out the union’s monthly newsletter. When union President Patrick Smith informed her that such disbursements were unauthorized, she agreed to return the funds. The women also used the money to cover travel funds for a “conference” in Arizona they never attended and for personal expenses such as cell phones.
Beyond this case, however, lies another, stranger one. Sommers allegedly used her job with the CDA to help extract cash from a CDA-managed apartment previously occupied by an indigent elderly woman, Velma E. Jones, who died of natural causes in April 2007. Dane County Deputy Coroner Pete Thorpe found about $20,000 in cash on the premises, and promptly turned it over to Jones’ estate. But that wasn’t the end of the story. In early August, Joy Drummond, 63, a nurse at Meriter Hospital, and Leslie Veedahl, service coordinator at Dane County Mental Health Center, spent three days cleaning the Jones apartment so it could be rented to someone else. During the cleanup, they found a black messenger bag containing $10,540 in cash placed in envelopes along with several uncashed Social Security checks.
Drummond deposited the bag at the clinic. When Sommers got wind of this, she became nervous. Veedahl recalled her saying: “I wish you would have never told me about this, especially with those union rumors.” Drummond recommended to Sommers that she contact the lawyer for the Jones estate. But the lawyer, Greg Luinstra, said that he never heard from Sommers. After e-mailing her to dispose of everything in the apartment, Sommers responded a month later, but without mentioning the $10,000. Drummond in the meantime used some of the money to buy items for the clinic, moving the remaining $8,100 to the Dane County Mental Health Center for safekeeping. Supervisors didn’t want the money kept there, and insisted Sommers identity the person to whom the money belonged. Luinstra called the police after finding out about the money from someone at the center. This case might not be official union business, but it won’t make Sommers look good in the other one. (Wisconsin State Journal, 4/10/08; madison.com, 4/10/08).