Barbara Bullock, president of the Washington Teachers Union (WTU) from 1994 to 2002, had very expensive tastes. When it came to silverware, crystal, custom-tailored clothes and other personal items, only the best would do. The problem is that she siphoned off union funds in order to pay for them, using the local’s American Express card to make $1.2 million in illegal purchases. In all, she and top aides ripped off about $5 million in funds until their national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), removed them from office; FBI raids soon would follow. Bullock pleaded guilty to embezzlement in October 2003, and the following January received a nine-year prison sentence.
Though several other conspirators also had pleaded guilty to participating in the scam, three of her partners in crime insisted on fighting charges. Bullock, a cooperating witness, now has come back to haunt them. But the most welcome aspect of her court testimony may have been her revelation that corruption had been going on even before her tenure.
On June 21 Bullock testified on behalf of federal prosecutors against Gwendolyn Hemphill, James O. Baxter II and James Goosby. Hemphill, a former labor liaison to former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, had been Bullock’s office manager; Baxter was simultaneously WTU treasurer and a mayoral aide; and Goosby was a Maryland-based accountant who cooked the books. Taking the witness stand, Bullock identified nine separate checks that Hemphill had rubber-stamped (with Bullock’s signature) to pay for more than $85,000 worth of personal items charged to the union’s American Express card. She also threw a new curve: The local may have been a den of thieves even before her arrival. Upon taking office, she noted, the union treasury already was about $400,000 short. “They never discovered what happened to the money,” remarked Bullock. The WTU also owed the AFT $600,000, a debt for which the local had to borrow. While Bullock’s “if-others-did-it-then-so-can-I” line probably won’t get her a reduced sentence, it may wind up triggering a probe into the management practices of her predecessors. (Washington Times, 6/22).