Given what he took, it could have been a lot worse for Michael Bennett. Last Friday, June 16, Bennett, former president of United Auto Workers Local 2317, was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana to 15 months in prison and a year of supervised probation for stealing more than $100,000 from the Lafayette-based union. He had been indicted last August on three counts of embezzlement and three counts of wire fraud, and pleaded guilty in December. The union represents over 700 employees at the Oerlikon Fairfield plant in Lafayette, a maker of engineered gear and drive products. The actions follow an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards.
According to court documents, Bennett, who headed the union during 2006-15, diverted more than $100,000 in funds from the union over a five-year period. He made out 170 checks to himself, forging the signature of the local treasurer and then either cashing the checks or depositing them in a bank account. In addition, he profited illegally by renting out the Local 2317 union hall as a side business without reporting revenues. Suspicious union officials conducted an audit, concluding that Bennett had made unauthorized withdrawals. He signed a confession in May 2015 admitting to thefts totaling $84,807.23. The union then requested that the Labor Department conduct a probe. The department did just that, concluding he had stolen in excess of $100,000. This in turn led to the grand jury indictment of last August.