The sugar workers union that Jose “Chepito” Caraballo-Figueroa ran was an illusion. But the money he stole from it was real. So now is his punishment. On February 23, Caraballo-Figueroa, formerly president of Sindicato Obreros Unidos del Sur, or SOUS, was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico to 21 months in prison and one year of supervised release for embezzling an estimated $450,000 in funds from the Salinas, P.R. union. He had been arrested by the FBI and indicted by a grand jury in 2008 following a three-year investigation by the Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards. Caraballo, after a long delay, pleaded guilty in February 2011.
Caraballo took over SOUS from his father in 1978. The union ostensibly represented some 250 sugar processing plant workers in Puerto Rico. Yet the last such refinery on the island closed in 2000. In other words, this was a union boss without a union. It took a number of years for authorities to catch on. In December 2000, court documents note, Caraballo began drawing down funds from residual union assets to cover medical reimbursements, travel expenses and payments. By December 2007, he had stolen around $400,000, plus another nearly $50,000 in the form of an unauthorized check. The union, belatedly, is officially history.