As Miami Scandal Spreads, National Union Promises Change

As evidence emerged that it wasn’t just disgraced chief Pat Tornillo who used teacher union dues for his personal benefit, national officials promised changes to increase the accountability of local unions. 

On May 25, The Miami Herald reported that several United Teachers of Dade officials created a “transition reserve fund” for 12 elected officials, or their heirs, upon the officers’ leaving the union for any reason.  “The elected officials are only elected for three years,” said the UTD’s financial consultant, David Albaum.  “So they designed a ‘transition fund'” in case they got kicked out of office.  It is unclear whether all of the 12 knew about the fund.  But at least five, frmr. president Murray Sisselman, Tornillo his successor, manager Connie Jackson, secretary Carmen Esquijarosa and bookkeeper Judy Bowling, knew about the “transition” fund.

But former UTD president Murray Sissleman became angry when Tornillo and the rest of the UTD hierarchy drained the $2.2 million fund to cover massive cost overruns in the building of the union’s new headquarters.  In Feb. of this year, just before he died of cancer, Sisselman tipped off the UTD’s chief financial officer, James Angleton Jr., to massive misspending by Tornillo, who then went to two former federal prosecutors, thus starting an ongoing investigation.

Albaum also said that the existence of the fund was concealed from most UTD administrators and was never mentioned in the UTD’s official budget.  Also unaware of the fund, until told of it by the Herald, was Mark Richard, the UTD’s temporary trustee appointed by the Amer. Fedtn. of Teachers (AFT).  The AFT’s takeover of the UTD is the second this year.  In January, the AFT took over the Washington Teachers Union (WTU), whose frmr. president, Barbara Bullock, is under federal investigation over the apparent theft of $5 million.  In April, AFT lawyers admitted to U.S. Dist. Judge Emmet G. Sullivan (Wash., D.C., Clinton) that the AFT had failed to take notice when the WTU failed for six years to submit a required audit of their finances.  Judge Sullivan is considering a motion by local teacher Nathan Sanders for the appointment of a monitor independent of the AFT.

On May 29, the AFT’s executive council voted to inform the members of any local whose leaders refuse to submit an audit after two requests by the AFT that they will send investigators to find out what the problem is.

The Herald also reports that frmr. UTD chief Tornillo used teacher union dues to pay for his personal maid, the wife of the union’s head of maintenance, who was listed as an employee of the union. [Miami Herald, 5/25/03:  The New York Times, 6/1/03]