Tornillo Pleads Guilty, Does Not Have to Cooperate with Further Investigation

Ex-United Teachers of Dade (UTD) chief Pasquale “Pat” Tornillo agreed on Aug. 25 to spend up to 2 yrs. in prison and pay $650,000 in restitution to the union he used as his personal piggy bank for at least the past 6 years.  But as a result of the plea bargain with the U.S. Attny’s. Ofc. of Southern Fla., Tornillo is shielded from prosecution for any future offenses uncovered in the ongoing investigation.

The deal does not shield Tornillo from any potential action by the Amer. Fedtn. Of Teachers (AFT) to recover more stolen funds.  But one avenue of the federal investigation now closed is the UTD’s award of an HMO contract to the Health Insurance Plan of Greater NY in 1995.  Tornillo allegedly engineered the contract in exchange for a $900,000 kickback after an AFT-paid trip to Africa that included HIP V.P. Arthur Barnes.  Barnes is married to Sandra Feldman, then the president of the AFT’s NY affiliate, who is now head of the AFT, which has placed UTD under trusteeship. 

Tornillo persisted in supporting HIP in 1996 as the company lost millions of dollars and NYC officials revealed that HIP had the highest number of upheld complaints and the worst customer service among NY HMOs in the mid 1990s.  The U.S. Attny. began investigating the contract in 2000, but stopped when public corruption agents decided that Tornillo was not a public official.

As set forth in the Information and in an Agreed Statement of Facts that accompanied his guilty plea, Tornillo engaged in a scheme to defraud the UTD and to unjustly enrich himself by using money belonging to UTD to pay for his personal credit card expenses and other personal expenses.  Tornillo used personal credit cards and UTD corporate credit cards to make a variety of personal charges as well as union-related charges.  Even though the bills for these credit cards included strictly personal charges, Tornillo had UTD pay for the bills in their entirety.  The personal charges incurred on both the personal and the corporate credit cards, and paid for by UTD, included charges for a variety of personal vacations that Tornillo took with his wife and other family members.  These vacation charges included first class airfare, stays at luxury hotels, meals, gifts and souvenirs in Australia, New Zealand, New York City, the San Francisco area, and the Caribbean island of St. Barthélemy, among other destinations. The travel also included charges for first class airfare and luxury cruises on the Seabourn Cruise Line in the South Pacific, Turkey, Greece, Brazil and Indonesia. To ensure that these personal charges would be paid, Tornillo falsely represented to UTD’s comptroller and to UTD’s outside auditors that the charges were business-related.

It was also part of Tornillo’s scheme to defraud to use a fund referred to as the UTD Nova Educational Fund, the existence of which was not disclosed to certain other officers of UTD and was not disclosed to UTD’s Executive Board.  Tornillo had checks written from the UTD Nova Educational Fund to pay for personal credit card bills and to pay for the rental of vacation homes on St. Barthélemy.  Tornillo also obtained substantial amounts of cash from the fund in the form of checks made out to him personally that were written in round-figure amounts ranging from $2,000 to $15,000.  Tornillo never returned any of the cash to UTD and never provided any form of accounting for his use of the cash. 

Pursuant to the Plea Agreement, the loss to UTD resulting from Tornillo’s offenses of conviction is estimated to be between $500,000 and $800,000.  Tornillo’s sentencing date has been set for November 7, 2003, before U.S. Dist. Judge Adalberto Jose Jordan (S. Fla., Clinton). [U.S.A.O. S.D.Fla., 8/25/03: Miami Herald, Aug. 24, 26, 2003]