Jeni May Hughes ripped off hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of more than a decade. She’s lucky to be facing incarceration for a far shorter stretch. On January 19, Hughes, former office manager for United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 155, was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas to 30 months in prison and three years of supervised release for embezzling $428,874.47 from the Little Rock union. She also was ordered to make full restitution plus a $100 special assessment. Hughes had pleaded guilty last May after being charged the month before in a one-count information. The actions follow an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards.
Now 51, Jeni May Hughes, a resident of Jacksonville (Pulaski County), Ark., served as office manager of the roughly 900-member local for more than 15 years. Her duties included collecting and depositing member dues. Apparently, much of the money had an unauthorized destination: herself. According to prosecutors, Hughes during January 2005-March 2016 regularly deposited dues into a personal bank account. Eventually, local officials suspected something wasn’t right and requested an outside audit. In March 2016, just before the audit began, she abruptly resigned. If the resignation raised suspicions, the discovery of a financial shortfall of $428,874.47 probably raised them even more. The union promptly reported the discrepancy to the Labor Department, which in turn reached the same conclusion. This led to a Justice Department probe, a criminal charge and a guilty plea.
At the sentencing hearing, a union representative presented the court with a letter signed by more than 100 members that read: “The money [Hughes] stole came from our members” and was supposed to be used to “train all members, provide health insurance, and a pension. The same benefits we provided for her.” That’s something for Jeni May Hughes to think about for the next several years.