On the West Coast as well, things have gotten tough for a prominent labor official holding down a second job as a politician. Until recently, Martin Ludlow was the toast of Los Angeles progressive politics. But right now the former Los Angeles City Councilman and union leader looks more like toast. On Monday, March 6, Ludlow, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, agreed to plead guilty to felony conspiracy to secretly divert more than $36,000 in union funds to his 2003 council campaign. Three days earlier federal and local prosecutors, along with the City Ethics Commission, announced they had worked out a deal. In addition to paying restitution, Ludlow would accept a four-year ban on holding public office and a 13-year ban on leading a union. He may be able to avoid prison time provided he cooperates with the investigation of former Service Employees International Union Local 99 President Janett Humphries, who has pleaded not guilty to a pair of local counts.
Prosecutors have charged Ludlow with putting political operatives from Local 99 on the union payroll and using union funds to pay for phone bills and other campaign expenses. The scheme was an attempt to circumvent a $500 legal ceiling on campaign contributions. Ludlow and Humphries, prosecutors further allege, tried to cover up the scheme by falsifying, removing or altering union records. Humphries allegedly directed the SEIU Local 99 bookkeeper to create backdated documents and change employment records to “make them appear as independent contractors rather than employees.” The phantom workers are cooperating with prosecutors. Local 99 is a major political player, having contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than a dozen local candidates. Humphries, with a palpable taste for the finer things in life, is facing a separate set of federal offenses beyond political battles. She’s being charged with one count of conspiracy to embezzle union funds and 17 counts of embezzlement to pay for six workers on Ludlow’s campaign staff, cell phone service for Ludlow, and trips for herself, her daughters and a friend to Hawaii, the Virgin Islands and Australia.
Ludlow is set to plead guilty at his arraignment on March 27. Whether or not he knows enough to put Ms. Humphries away, his arrest and plea bargain reveals volumes about the interplay between Los Angeles unions and City Hall. Ludlow, 41, resigned from the City Council last year to become executive secretary-treasurer of the 825,000-member Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, with its more than 350 unions, following the recent death of his longtime labor mentor, Miguel Contreras. It’s the top staff post in that organization. And it provides opportunities to provide favors, something Ludlow had done, in fact, even before taking over the federation. Back during his days as a board member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, he allegedly helped an associate obtain a $282,000 public relations contract, even though conflict-of-interest rules prohibited him from officially acting on it. Federal officials agreed not to go after him for that action. With Ludlow having recently left his federation post, the group’s executive board recently appointed Marina Elena Durazo as its interim secretary-treasurer. She’s president of UNITE-HERE Local 11, which represents hotel workers. (Los Angeles Times, 3/4/06; Associated Press, 3/4/06).