New Jersey IBEW Local Officials Charged with $350,000 in Thefts

IBEW logoRichard “Buzzy” Dressel apparently saw his union as a source of free income for his girlfriend. That the two are now married hasn’t impressed federal prosecutors. Last November 15, Dressel, business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 164, along with the local president, John DeBouter, were arrested and then indicted in Newark federal court on eight counts of embezzling a combined roughly $350,000 from the Paramus, N.J.-based union and its apprenticeship fund. Nearly two weeks later, Dressel and DeBouter each pleaded not guilty. A court spokesperson informed Union Corruption Update today that lawyers have scheduled a status conference for September 5. A status conference typically indicates a trial is imminent. 

According to the indictment, Dressel, 63, a resident of Montvale (Bergen County), N.J., used his position as an IBEW Local 164 official to provide his girlfriend, Kathleen Libonati, 54, with funds from the union and its related Joint Apprentice Training Fund (JATF) in order to advance her catering business. In 2008, Dressel instituted a “Captive Lunch Program” requiring the JATF to use Ms. Libonati’s catering service to supply lunches four days a week to about 40 apprentice trainees. In return, she would be paid $60,000 a year. At the same time, Dressel also hired Libonati to work in his office at $1,000 a week, plus 50 percent for health and retirement benefits. After eight months, he raised her annual salary to $86,000. And in February 2009, he gave her a part-time job managing the union office building.

On top of all this, say prosecutors, Dressel and DeBouter, 55, a resident of Oakland, N.J., went to the JATF executive board and demanded that the union be reimbursed by $108,196, a sum representing salary payments to Libonati during March 2008-February 2010. Prosecutors concluded that this was an attempt by Dressel and DeBouter to disguise the unauthorized nature of the payments. The alleged thefts totaled about $350,000, of which some $146,000 represented union funds and more than $200,000 represented apprenticeship funds.

Dressel and Libonati, who married in June 2010, are facing major disruptions to their domestic life. And Mrs. Dressel, formerly Ms. Libonati, if in a small way, has been scathed. She pleaded guilty last November 19 to receiving an unauthorized medical benefit claim of $78 from Local 164 Treasurer Charles Mattson. Mattson also pleaded guilty a couple weeks later in that case. Richard Dressel, who until recently had served on the boards of Hackensack University Medical Center Foundation and Bergen Community College, has been free on $150,000 bail, as has DeBouter. Neither has commented publicly on their situation. It’s not likely at this point they would want to.