NYC Union Boss Theft Plea Could Mean Fat Sentence

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Holland Tunnel, Port Authority-managed Daniel Hughes lived large, figuratively and literally. Now the former New York City-area union chieftain is facing a major downsizing in his lifestyle. Hughes, ex-president of Port Authority Field Supervisors Association Local 111-S, pleaded guilty in Brooklyn federal court on June 16 to embezzling nearly $300,000 from the union over the course of a half-decade to finance his seemingly boundless appetite for hookers, gambling and gourmet meals. The union, whose roughly 250 members perform roadwork at Port Authority-managed bridges, tunnels and airports, is for the time being out of money. Hughes is trying to deal with a bigger dilemma: a prison sentence of between 46 and 57 months. 

The case of Daniel Hughes, 49, a resident of Queens, is at once sad and comical. Standing at 5-foot-11 and weighing more than 350 pounds - that's after weight-reduction surgery - his travails have made him the subject of more than a few fat jokes. But he's got only himself to blame for the bad press. Hughes assumed the presidency of his union, an affiliate of the United Service Workers, in December 2002, while remaining employed at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey as a field maintenance supervisor. As Local 111-S president, Hughes had the authority to write and cash checks from the union bank account. Whether out of hubris, greed, loneliness or all three things, he used his position as a ticket of entry to a lengthy pleasure palace tour. From about January 2005 until December 2009, prosecutors charged, Hughes, who is married with a son, illegally diverted $294,000 in union funds toward his sybaritic spree.

Gambling was one activity on Hughes' mind. He spent member dues on at least two junkets to the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut. Fine dining was another priority item. Hughes made lavish use of his union credit card at area restaurants, in one instance rolling up a $600 tab. But what has generated the most media attention - small surprise in this day and age - were his dalliances with prostitutes in Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens. Apparently, Hughes wanted the best. "They were $400 to $500 [per date]," noted Port Authority Deputy Inspector General Michael Nestor. Lodging for these trysts wasn't cheap either. The "couples-friendly" Kew Motor Inn, located along the Grand Central Parkway in Queens, was a common destination. Its Arabian Nights room featured a gold headboard and a mirrored wall, while its Southwestern room had a mirrored ceiling. A preferred location in Manhattan was the Bowery Hotel whose suites rented for $650 a night. Hughes apparently also made extensive use of his union ATM card to access a Web site known for personal ads placed by transsexuals. Say this for him: His fun was off the Port Authority clock.

Hughes' misuse of funds came to light last December. He was calling in sick with increasing frequency, and even more tellingly, union officials were discovering their bills weren't being paid. "What they found was that there was very little money in the union coffers or bank account," said an investigator familiar with the case. This January the local launched a probe into their fearless leader's spending patterns. Soon after, Hughes resigned his Port Authority and union positions. It was the end of the line.

At his plea hearing Hughes grew emotional as he admitted his malfeasance. "I didn't use it for union benefit," he stated. "I used it as salary." Likewise, Port Authority Deputy Attorney General Michael Nestor observed that Hughes used union funds as "his own personal piggy bank." Hughes pointed out at his hearing that he was under psychiatric care for post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and depression, and was taking at least five prescribed medications. Even minus his corpulence, the man's got issues. Hughes' successor, George Murtaugh, was unavailable for comment. His issues hopefully are manageable.