Southern California Independent Union Boss Sentenced for Thefts

When going after organized corruption, the leader normally is the last to fall. Such was the case of the Romero family. Last Tuesday, January 5, John S. Romero, ex-president of the United Industrial Service Workers of America (UISWA), was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to 12 years in prison for his lead role in embezzling nearly $800,000 from the Colton (San Bernardino County), Calif.-based union’s health plan through various schemes. He had been convicted by a jury last February. His former wife, Evelyn Romero, and two adult children, John J. and Danae Romero, already had pleaded guilty and received sentences. He faces a restitution hearing in April. The actions follow a probe by the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards, Office of Inspector General and Employee Benefits Security Administration.

Union Corruption Update has covered this case since it first broke six years ago. John S. Romero, now 74, a resident of Loma Linda, for years had run the independent union, which represents workers in a variety of occupations in Southern California’s Inland Empire region. He also put his wife, son and daughter on the payroll. The result was almost no accountability. The Romeros during 2008-14 proceeded to divert funds for purposes unrelated to union business, including fake salary payments. They eventually left a paper trail long enough for Department of Labor investigators to put the pieces together. The house of cards came falling down in January 2015, when a federal grand jury indicted the four Romeros on a combined 40 criminal counts related to the looting of UISWA of around $900,000, mostly from the health plan. In addition, the elder Romero filed a false report with the DOL that concealed over $100,000 in receipts and disbursements. He would be convicted on 14 separate counts by a federal jury in February 2020 after a five-day trial.  

This wasn’t the first time John S. Romero had done something like this. Roughly a decade ago he began serving a prison sentence for making false statements to federal officials while heading another union. This time around, he cajoled his family into crime. Last September 9, U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips ordered convicted family members to pay restitution. The amounts were: Evelyn Romero ($316,502); John J. Romero ($273,350); and Danae Romero ($200,552). The patriarch has his own restitution hearing on April 5. Federal prosecutors are confident justice has been done. “To execute this scheme, [John S. Romero] manipulated others, including his own family members,” wrote prosecutors in their sentencing memorandum. “He employed sophisticated means in furtherance of the scheme, including by diverting trust money through a Nevada shell company to hide his theft. He lied to brokers and administrators. And he bullied and pressured those around him to get his way, thereby intimidating and abusing those who trusted him most.”