Convicted Fla. Boss Gets Light Sentence

George Spencer, who resigned on Jan. 31 as president of the Jacksonville longshoremen’s union, was sentenced to six mos. in jail on Jan. 23 for witness tampering in a rape case.  But responding to pleas by local democrat officeholders, Circuit Judge Michael Weatherby withheld a formal adjudication of guilt against Spencer, who had pled no contest in Oct.  As a result, the frmr. chief of Local 1408 of the Intl. Longshoremen’s Assn. (ILA) will avoid having the felony conviction appear on his record if he completes 3 years of probation and pays a $5,000 fine.  Potentially, he could also hold union office again in the future.


As FBI agents monitored conversations in the union hall in 2001, they recorded Spencer offering $5,000 to persuade a woman raped by local member Jerome Williams not to testify at his trial. But reportedly, Spencer offered the bribe to a local undercover officer posing as the woman’s girlfriend.  FBI agents turned their tapes over to state prosecutors, who then arrested Spencer for felony witness-tampering.  Williams was convicted of rape and armed kidnapping in May 2002.  Judge Weatherby labeled him a sexual predator, and sentenced him to life in prison. 


At Spencer’s Dec. 19 sentencing hearing, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) and state Sen. Tony Hill (D), both of whom have benefited from union backing, asked Judge Weatherby to go easy on Spencer.  “There are people out there who support you even though you’ve done a stupid thing,” Weatherby told Spencer.  “What were you thinking? You of all people should have known better.”  That assertion is debatable, given a class-action suit pending against George, and his brother, Charles, and also a frmr. president of Local 1408.  About a dozen women have testified in that sexual harassment and discrimination case, that both brothers made unwanted sexual advances and demanded favors for work on the Jacksonville docks.


“We’re continuing to press this lawsuit,” said the women’s attorney, Ed Birk.  “The resignation of George Spencer is a tremendously positive step, but our work at the waterfront is not yet done.” [Florida Times-Union, 1/24/04]