HI State Union Chief Convicted of Fraud, Embezzlement

United Public Workers (UPW) chief Gary Rodrigues was found guilty by a Honolulu jury on Nov. 19 of fraud and embezzlement that cost UPW members nearly $200,000. Rodrigues reacted by pointing at the fed. prosecutors and saying, “Get a good look at their faces, remember their faces,” then later grabbing a microphone from a reporter’s hand and smashing it on the ground.

Rodrigues was convicted of accepting kickbacks from 1996-2000 from insurers who did business with the union, which is affiliated with the Amer. Fedn. of State, County & Municipal Employees. Rodrigues also set up consultant contracts with family and friends, supposedly to review the union’s benefits programs, but who did little actual work. Also convicted was Rodrigues’ daughter, Robin Sabatini, who formed her own company, Four Winds RSK Inc. to take on the union business referred by her father, but spent only one to four days a month on her business, while making more than $142,000 a year.

During the trial, fed. prosecutors presented testimony from Rodrigues’ ex-girlfriend and an insurance agent about the agent’s weekly payments to Rodrigues, and Rodrigues’ payment of “consulting” fees to the girlfriend’s father to repay a personal loan. Sabatini’s frmr. employer testified  to her “consulting” contracts with her father. The two defendants’ lawyers called no witnesses, but argued that prosecutors had failed to prove their case.

It took the jury 15 minutes to read their guilty verdicts on all 101 criminal charges against Rodrigues and Sabatini. Rodrigues’ lawyer said he would appeal the convictions. [Honolulu Advertiser 11/20/02]

Uncovered Audit Reveals More Problems in NYC’s DC37
A three-year-old audit of a NYC local govt. union came to light in early Nov., revealing unexplained cash payments to the union’s frmr. president, payments for his wife’s airplane trips, and nearly $2 million spent on a new HQ that remains a dilapidated shell. Disturbingly, neither the NYC D.A. or a union trustee took any action after the audit was completed in 1999.

For 30 years, until he finally lost an election this spring, James Butler was president of Local 420 of the Amer. Fedn.. of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Local 420 is part of the corruption-riddled Dist. Council 37, where more than two dozen officials have been convicted of embezzlement and vote-rigging.

In 1999, KPMG accountants conducted an extensive audit of all 56 Dist. Council locals covering 1995 through 1998. Acc. to the auditors, Butler charged $27,430 to the union for travel and lodging without any documentation of connection to the union. KPMG also found $58,720 in charges by a number of Local 420 officials for food and drinks, also without any documentation. Butler’s wife, Eloise, took 32 trips, incl. eight 1st-class flights to Bermuda and the Caribbean. Finally, the auditors found that the union had spent $1.8 million for a new headquarters that is still far from completion.

Butler kept the report secret, and argued that he had done nothing wrong since the Local 420 board had approved all the expenditures. Citing that approval, NYC D.A. Robert Morgenthau and Lee Saunders, appointed by the natl. AFSCME union to oversee DC37, took no action against Butler.

Butler finally lost an election to Carmen Charles this spring, and Charles made the audit public. [New York Times 11/9/02]