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 Educational 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.
To his sworn enemies, Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker's victory last Tuesday over Democratic challenger Tom Barrett by 53 to 46 percent has been hard to spin and to accept. The biggest loser, aside from Barrett himself, is the state's public-sector labor unions. There's not much getting around it. It was public-sector unions who led the effort to recall Walker following passage by the legislature over a year ago of a fiscal reform package that included several tough limitations on collective bargaining power. Unions and allied groups by this January gathered nearly a million signatures to put a recall on the ballot.
If an embezzler returns money to its proper owner, that doesn't erase the fact of the embezzlement. Authorities in Worcester County, Maryland have been operating on that principle since late January, when they initiated a probe of the temporary disappearance of more than $100,000 belonging to the Worcester County Teachers Association (WCTA). Evidence points to a former union treasurer, Denise Tull, as the most likely culprit. While Tull hasn't been charged with any offense, prosecutors believe an allegation of "misappropriated funds" contained in the association's 2011 tax filing will reveal the truth. "We have a potential crime that has gone unreported, at least to law enforcement," said Worcester County State's Attorney Beau Oglesby at the time. "There's going to be a complete and thorough investigation."
Michelle Placer thought in terms of wants, not consequences. On July 26, Placer, 38, was arrested by Ingham County (Lansing), Michigan sheriff's deputies for embezzling more than $30,000 in dues from the Holt Paraeducator Association, the employee union where she had served as treasurer. The money was to have been forwarded to its state affiliate, the Michigan Education Association, in turn an affiliate of the National Education Association. Placer was later released on bond. An initial complaint had been lodged last December with the county sheriff's office.
Government in Wisconsin, one probably has heard by now, is paralyzed. And the ultimate losers may be future generations of taxpayers. Last Thursday, February 17, up to 25,000 protestors, led by public-sector union officials, rallied in the state capital of Madison to intimidate legislators out of voting in favor of new Republican Governor Scott Walker's budget austerity plan, which includes major concessions from unions.