2nd AFT Local Implodes, this Time in Miami

For the second time this year, the Amer. Fedtn. of Teachers has taken over a local affiliate under investigation for possible embezzlement by the local hierarchy.  The first came early this year, in Washington, D.C., as the AFT took over that Local after a federal investigation and AFT audit found up to $5 million missing under the leadership of its ex-president, Barbara Bullock. 

The latest scandal is in Miami, Fla.  Pat Tornillo, who built the United Teachers of Dade (UTD) into a behemoth union overseeing all 27,900 teachers and support staff in Dade County over four decades, placed himself on indefinite leave on April 30.  He will continue to take in an annual salary of $243,000.  The takeover occurred the day after federal investigators raided the UTD’s headquarters, seizing Tornillo’s expense reports, reimbursement forms, credit cards records, appointment books and tax returns.

Tornillo is under suspicion for using members’ dues — at $1,008 a year for full-time teachers the highest in Fla. — to pay for personal property, hotel bills and other personal expenses.  But Tornillo’s critics point to more open deals between the union and the school board as evidence of mismanagement.  Since 1996, the contract Tornillo negotiated with the board has allowed only one supplemental insurance broker, the Public Employee Services Company (PESCO), to sell its services to school employees.  That company’s office is on the ground floor of the UTD HQ, and the union owns 19,000 shares of PESCO stock.

Federal agents are also investigating Tornillo’s role in selecting Raul Suarez del Campo to supervise the construction of the union’s $20 million HQ.  Last November, Tornillo and his wife moved into a $375,000 condominium owned by del Campo.  Largely as a result of the construction costs, two banks have called for full and immediate repayment of $2.5 million in loans to the UTD.  In one case, union officials wired $450,000 to stave off the call.  In another, Miami-Dade school district officials have frozen the dues they collect for UTD from its members.

Said one source to the Miami Herald, “The best I can say is that it’s synonymous with what happened to Donald Warshaw.”  The frmr. president of the Miami Police Relief and Pension Fund was convicted in 2001 for stealing from a children’s charity to pay for sports tickets, Disney World trips, fancy clothes and dinners.

Since Florida is a Right to Work state, more than 100 teachers have resigned from the union since the scandal surfaced in news reports.  [Miami Herald 4/30, 5/1, 5/2, 5/3]