Boss Took Trip to London with Members’ Funds

A former boss of the Service Employees Int’l Union used union members dues for personal trips to Disney World and London. The former head of the SEIU local in Boyton Beach, Fla., Wanda Stimpson, was sentenced Sep. 4 to 5 months in prison for embezzling $120,000 from the union for her vacations. Federal prosecutors said she altered checks to conceal her scheme. The SEIU boss also was sentenced to 5 months of home detention and 2 years of probation. There was no report of restitution. [Palm Beach Post 9/5/98]

$412K a Year Boss Sets Up Defense Fund
Reportedly America’s highest-paid union boss, Gus Bevona, who made $412,000 in 1997 as president of N.Y.’s SEIU Local 32B-32J, is in trouble. Despite his salary, Bevona is asking other union bosses to fund his latest legal defense costs. According to his lawyer’s recent letter to other bosses, he “is being victimized by a campaign of legal harassment.”

The source of harassment? A 28-year member of the local, Carlos Guzman who is fed up with Bevona’s hand-picked business agents failing union members. He also criticizes Bevona’s salary and the number of Bevona family members on the payroll. Guzman rapidly became Bevona’s worst nightmare by using political and legal campaigns in tandem. Despite Bevona’s power and union money, he has lost a string of suits to Guzman over the lack of democracy in the union. In one case, Bevona was found guilty by a federal jury of violating Guzman’s free-speech rights by hiring private investigators to spy on him. The verdict led to a $100,000 fine against the union. Bevona spent $1.2 million of union members’ money in the case and appeal.  Other suits forced the union into contested elections and membership referendums for the first time in decades.

Guzman filed a suit last year demanding that Bevona reimburse the union for $1.2 million spent on the spying case. He also wants Bevona to repay $500,000 the union spent to publish a book “commemorating the history of the union.”The book attacked Guzman and was mailed to all 60,000 members. In a separate case, a federal judge held Bevona’s book was an illegal campaign expense. U.S. Dist. Judge Robert Patterson has now ordered Bevona not to use SEIU funds to pay the legal costs of fighting the current this recovery suit. That’s the reason for Bevona’s “Defense Fund.” “Heaven forbid Bevona should spend any of his own money,” said the Daily News.

The AFL-CIO Central Labor Council in N.Y. has concluded that if Bevona loses and has to pay, other union bosses will suffer. The Council has even filed an amicus brief insisting that Bevona and his board were following their lawyers’ advice when hiring the spies, and that they were engaging in free speech when they spent union funds on the book praising Bevona. To hold union bosses personally liable for something the courts later declared illegal, the AFL-CIO bosses claim, would cause “grave consequences to the internal affairs” of other unions.

In the words of the Daily News, “And they’re absolutely right. Grave consequences like leaders who are responsible for their actions. Grave consequences like a little more democracy. No wonder Gus and so many other union honchos are worried…” [N.Y. Daily News 9/15/98]