Union workers thought the dues they paid over the years supported California’s Service Employees International Union, the biggest union local in the state.
However a sizable chunk of their hard earned pay was allegedly being skimmed by one Tyrone Freeman, who headed the union.
Freeman, once a rising star in the state’s Democratic politics, was also allegedly stealing from folks working for a non-profit organization who earn approximately $9 per hour to pay for the infirmed. Freeman resigned in 2009.
Tuesday, Freeman was indicted on 15 counts of federal charges for stealing from those union workers to enrich himself. Freeman even billed the union thousands for his Hawaiian wedding, according to the Feds. The 15-count indictment also includes allegations of tax violations and providing false information to a mortgage lender. All charges, if he were convicted of them, total 200 years of maximum prison sentences, according to the latest in a series of Los Angeles Times articles about Freeman's dubious finances.
The investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor, FBI and Internal Revenue Service conducted over four years was launched after a series of Times reports on Freeman's financial undertakings as president of SEIU Local 6434.
According to Times reports, Freeman regularly had employees of a charity he ran to work on behalf of political candidates which is against the law, this according to people who said they participated in such activities.
Charities are forbidden to take part in campaigns for public office, directly or indirectly because they are subsidized by taxpayers. Violations can cost charities their tax exemptions and lead to other penalties.
Some charges involve an alleged scheme in which Freeman is accused of illegally directing Local 6434 money to an affiliated organization of which he was in charge. The union booty was directed to California United Homecare Workers to boost Freeman’s salary. Freeman is also charged with defrauding a nonprofit group funded by the union that is devoted to developing housing for low-wage workers.
The alleged pilfering of union funds extends to Freeman’s wife, Pilar Planells, who pleaded guilty last month to an income tax charge having to do with $540,000 she was paid by the union for consultations.
The Times, referencing interviews and various records, reported that Freeman funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars union members' dues and money from a related charity, to his relatives. Freeman also spent lavish sums on a Four Seasons Resort golf tournament, expensive restaurants and a Beverly Hills cigar club, according to the Timers report.
For her part, Planells may get off the hook with three years' probation and having to pay back about $130,000 in back taxes, interest and penalties. There was no mention in the Times piece of her having to pay any monies back to the union.
Swirling scandals resulted in Freeman being fired and rumors of his misconduct spread throughout the SEIU. A few other California officials were implicated as well as a Michigan union boss.
Freeman's lawyers have declared him innocent of the charges in the indictment.
"When the truth comes out at trial, it will be abundantly clear that he acted appropriately at all times," attorneys Kelly B. Kramer and Michael Zweiback said in a statement.
Abel Salinas, the Labor Department's special agent in charge in Los Angeles, released a statement saying the indictment of Freeman demonstrates the government's "commitment to investigating allegations of labor racketeering in our nation's unions."