Crime hoaxes are a fact of American life – think only of the Tawana Brawley “rape” case that ripped the nation apart more than 20 years ago. A prominent northern New Jersey labor union that is no stranger to brushes with the law is now the object of attention of a hoax of a less dramatic sort. Deborah Moshier, a claims examiner for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825, was arrested and charged in Newark federal court on December 11 with various offenses related to an allegedly fraudulent scheme to obtain money from a union benefit fund. If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison.
Moshier, 44, a resident of West Milford, N.J. (Passaic County), told FBI investigators in an interview this September that a fellow employee of the Springfield, N.J.-based union had extorted some $20,000 from her. A few weeks later, apparently in even more distraught condition, she showed the agency a poison pen letter from her tormentor that read, “Die! You talk to FBI again.” Could this be part of a mob-related plot? Actually, it was part of something more mundane.
Authorities already had begun investigating Moshier in July after a union member complained that he hadn’t received several benefit checks. Apparently, he’d “moved” to the community of Riverdale in neighboring Morris County, N.J. – or so that person’s insurance carrier had been informed. The feds noticed something else: red fibers attached to the death threat. When they probed Moshier in September, they arrived at the apparent truth: She had written the letter herself, and that the fibers had come from red gloves she wore to avoid leaving fingerprints. The letter was her alibi for embezzling since January nine union checks totaling $5,300 to pay for her daughter’s prom dress. Her ruse gone, she acknowledged submitting phony medical and dental claims on behalf of two members, forging their signatures on checks as well. She would be charged with embezzlement, making false statements and obstruction of justice before U.S. District Magistrate Judge Esther Salas. Moshier was released on $5,000 bail. Attempts by a local newspaper reporter to reach her through her lawyer, David A. Holman, were unsuccessful.
Publicity of this sort is about the last thing Operating Engineers Local 825 needs. During the last couple years, more than a dozen officials, contractors and business agents of the 7,000-member construction union have been indicted on a host of federal bribery, kickback and embezzlement charges. Among the persons pleading guilty have been Peter Strannemar, Kenneth Campbell and Craig Wask, respectively, the union’s former local president, business manager and business agent. Deborah Moshier’s apparent hoax had nothing to do with this web of corruption, but it won’t exactly help the union’s public-relations problem either. One hopes her daughter, at least, had a memorable prom.