For five years, Rae Dawn Grillo embezzled union funds. She’s now going to spend the next five years under close supervision. On August 27, Grillo, formerly treasurer of the Charleroi Area Education Association, pleaded guilty in the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, Pennsylvania (near Pittsburgh) to thefts from the union totaling $65,963. She then was sentenced to nine months of electronic home monitoring, five years of probation and 200 hours of community service. She also was ordered to repay residual restitution in the amount of $8,175. Grillo had been charged in February following a joint investigation by the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards and Office of Inspector General.
When it comes to coercion, government employee unions are masters of the game. But now they must contend with masters of the courtroom. On June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hearFriedrichs v. California Teachers Association (CTA), a case previously dismissed by district and appeals courts. Several school teachers across California, led by an Orange County teacher, Rebecca Friedrichs (in photo), assert that the CTA has no authority to levy political fees on non-members without prior consent. In light of its 2012 Knox decision, and the political character of many “non-political” bargaining issues, the Court may overturn its 1977 Abood ruling authorizing the public-sector union shop. The CTA and allies counter, less than convincingly, that the plaintiffs are “free riders” mooching off dues-paying members.
Teachers unions during the past decade have known their share of scandal. Add the case of Wayne Wedderman Jr. to the list. This Monday, June 29, Wedderman, treasurer of the Barnegat Education Association, pleaded guilty in Ocean County, New Jersey Superior Court to theft from the union. He had been arrested last November for stealing roughly a combined $23,000 from two union accounts in the wake of a county probe begun the previous month. A grand jury in February subsequently indicted Wedderman on two counts of theft and one count of computer theft. Sentencing is scheduled for September.
Unions, even those representing government employees, are private organizations. Yet a new report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) reveals that taxpayers in one state effectively are being forced to cover some of the costs of public-sector union official business. The study, authored by CEI labor policy analyst Trey Kovacs and titled, “A Remedy for Taxpayer Giveaway to Unions” (March 25, 2015), in the face of considerable resistance, dug up clear evidence that state and local government agencies in Missouri are subsidizing public-sector unions during working hours without loss of member pay. These “release time” clauses, whether or not built into collective bargaining agreements, are at odds with the public interest, deceptively costly, and almost certainly illegal.
Managing the finances of a teachers union can be lucrative, especially if it means extra, and illegal, income. Rae Dawn Grillo has discovered that thefts usually are found out. On February 18, Grillo, former treasurer of the Charleroi Area Education Association, was arrested and charged in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Washington County (Pittsburgh area) Court, with three felony counts related to her embezzlement of more than $65,000 in funds from the Charleroi-based union over a five-year period. And yesterday, March 16, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced it would not seek an indictment following her agreement to plead guilty to local charges.
It may have been a formality, but it was a relief to get out of the way. Last Wednesday, October 2, Lisa Barrett, former president of the Wyoming Area School District Teachers Union, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania to embezzling over $30,000 in funds from the Exeter, Pa. (Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area) union over a six-year period. Union Corruption Update had noted the day before that Barrett had expressed her intent to plead guilty upon being charged on September 24. Barrett and prosecutors did not reach an agreement as to sentencing, set for January.
Say this for Lisa Barrett: She isn't one to deny the obvious. Last week, Barrett, former president of the Exeter, Pa.-based Wyoming Area School District Teachers Union, was charged in federal court with embezzling more than $30,000 in funds from the union over a six-year period. According to her attorney, she "has agreed to accept full responsibility for her actions," including making full restitution. She had resigned as union president in February, the same month she took an indefinite leave of absence from her teaching post. The local school board accepted her resignation as a teacher at an August 20 meeting. The school district is located in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area.
For more than five years, Sheryl Daniels and Rhoshonda Herring stole from their union without detection. Now they're getting more than their share of unwanted attention. On August 2, the two women, respectively, former president and former treasurer of United Teachers of Suwannee County (UTSC), turned themselves in to the Sheriff's Office of Suwannee County, Florida for arrest in the face of evidence that they had embezzled UTSC funds in excess of $50,000. Last Monday, September 9, Herring and Daniels each pleaded not guilty to one count of grand theft. The union is a joint affiliate of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
On May 9, Ronda Mackey-Fish, treasurer for the Redding Service Center Council, was arrested for embezzling more than $18,000 from the union, an affiliate of the California Teachers Association, which in turn is an affiliate of the National Education Association. The council had contacted police regarding a possible theft. Following an investigation, the authorities determined that Mackey-Fish, 54, a resident of Anderson, Calif., had stolen the money. She was booked at the Shasta County jail and was held on $25,000 bail.
When it comes to tracking down missing money, following one's best instincts is normally good policy. It certainly was that in the case of Denise Owens. On February 19, Owens, a former public school teacher in coastal Worcester County, Md., and former treasurer of the Worcester County Teachers Association, was found guilty in a Maryland state court of embezzling more than $430,000 from the union. It was a sum nearly four times that originally reported. The defendant, who until recently had gone by her former married name, Denise Tull, had an affliction all too common to union officials who steal: problem gambling. Owens was arrested by state police last August following an investigation. The details reveal not just a corrupt official, but also a union leadership less than fully accountable to its members.