Educators have been responsible for some of the more flagrant cases of union corruption in recent years. Patrick Santeramo, for one, doesn’t need any reminders of that. On January 20, Santeramo, former president of the Broward Teachers Union, the Broward County, Florida affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, was convicted by a state jury on various theft, fraud, money laundering, and campaign finance violations. Only weeks later, on February 12, he pleaded guilty in Fort Lauderdale federal court to one count of mail fraud. His combined take was well over $300,000. “We are profoundly disappointed in the jury’s verdict,” said defense attorney Benedict Kuehne following the state trial. The weight of evidence, however, strongly suggests justice was done in both cases.
The name Patrick Santeramo may jog the memory of longtime Union Corruption Update readers. Back in July 2012, Santeramo, now 68, a resident of Dania Beach, Fla., surrendered to Broward County authorities to face 19 charges of misappropriating nearly $300,000 from the 11,500-member Broward Teachers Union (BTU), which he headed during 2001-11. Prosecutors said that Santeramo, a public school teacher for 17 years prior to becoming a union employee and eventually president, had enriched himself in a variety of ways: 1) obtained $165,500 in kickbacks from an area building contractor who performed work at union headquarters in Tamarac, Fla.; 2) received $121,848 in improper reimbursements for unused sick and vacation pay; and 3) used union credit cards to cover unauthorized or undocumented expenses.
During his tenure as BTU president, Santeramo, whose annual salary reached $189,000, led with an autocratic style, rarely hesitating to stifle member dissent. To emphasize who ran the show, he decorated his office with posters from “The Godfather,” “Goodfellas” and “The Sopranos.” He resigned his post in December 2011, as union officials began an internal investigation. The State of Florida filed multiple corruption charges in July 2012. That’s when he turned himself in and posted $480,000 bond. After a long delay, the feds followed with a pair of mail fraud charges in August 2015, alleging Santeramo and certain other BTU employees received a combined $93,800 in unauthorized payments from the Broward County School District. Much of the stolen money allegedly went to pay for his $587,000 vacation home. He pleaded not guilty in each case. But prosecutors were ready.
The state trial began last October. Prosecutors emphasized the more than $165,000 in illegal kickbacks that Pat Santeramo allegedly had received from a Coral Springs, Fla. contractor, Marstan Construction. During 2006-11, Marstan chief David Esposito had sent the union inflated invoices for building maintenance services such as plumbing repairs, light bulb changes and ant extermination. Once paid, Esposito, not wanting to leave a paper trail, rewarded Santeramo with cash payments ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000. Then-Broward County Sheriff Al Lamberti said of Santeramo several years ago: “With every bill, there was something tacked on for him.” During testimony, Assistant State Attorney David Schulson introduced numerous invoices as evidence. But the allegations went further. Santeramo had forged union documents to collect more than $120,000 in phony sick and vacation time reimbursements. And after examining his union credit card records, prosecutors concluded that a large portion of the $128,634 in charges during the 2009-11 period lacked documentation and may have been for personal items. Santeramo also was an aspiring, and unscrupulous, power broker in Florida politics. According to prosecutors, he reimbursed union employees who donated money to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential primary campaign in that state. He did likewise in 2010 for Alex Sink’s campaign for governor and Nora Rupert’s campaign for the Broward County School Board. On January 20, the jury came back with its verdict: guilty on eight of nine charges. As consolation, Santeramo was found not guilty of misusing his union-issued gasoline credit card.
Meanwhile, a federal case was proceeding. Filed last August following a probe by the Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General, prosecutors concluded that Santeramo during 2006-11 had diverted $93,800 from the union courtesy of the Broward County School District’s Accountability Program, keeping $34,500 for himself and distributing another $59,300 to three unnamed BTU employees; the government did not allege the trio was aware that the payments were unauthorized. The district long had provided $80,000 annually to the union to defray the costs of Accountability Program training, teacher release time, guest speakers and other education-related activities. The collective bargaining agreement called for the union to keep written records of all program expenses and to make this information available to the school board. Apparently, it did not. Santeramo was now in a bad place. Convicted in the state case this January, the prospects in the federal case looked no better. A conviction on either of the two federal charges could mean up to 20 years in prison. Recognizing a dead end, Santeramo pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud on February 12.
Santeramo’s lawyer, Benedict Kuehne, is undecided as to whether to appeal the state verdict. “We are exploring our legal options,” Kuehne said. The prosecution doesn’t think there is much to explore. State of Florida attorney David Schulson put it this way: “He (Santeramo) was the gatekeeper of a multimillion-dollar budget from the dues of the Broward teachers, and that money was going nowhere without him knowing exactly where it was going.” As for Pat Santeramo, he has a more immediate problem: He is scheduled for sentencing in the federal case on April 22.