Michael Bennett wrote lots of checks to himself. And his union unknowingly picked up the tab until it realized what was going on. On November 21, Bennett, former president of United Auto Workers Local 2317, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana to one count of wire fraud in excess of $100,000 against the Lafayette, Ind.-based union. He had been indicted this August. The actions follow an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards.
UAW Local 2317 represents about 700 employees at the Fairfield Manufacturing plant in Lafayette. According to federal prosecutors, Bennett, who headed the union during 2006-15, forged the signature of the local treasurer on about 170 checks to cover nonexistent “travel expenses.” Having forged the checks, he either cashed them or deposited them into his own account. He also rented out the union hall for outside functions, but without reporting related revenues. Suspicious union officials conducted an audit pointing to Bennett as the culprit. Bennett reportedly signed a confession in May 2015 admitting he had diverted $84,807.23 in union funds to his own use. The union then contacted the Labor Department, which conducted a probe revealing Bennett had stolen over $100,000. This August, a grand jury indicted him on three counts each of embezzlement and wire fraud. The indictment led to last month’s guilty plea.