After 2 1/2 years, the racketeering trial of Walter Browne finally began on April 8. Walter J. Browne runs the Federation of Public and Private Employees, a 7,000-member union of mostly blue-collar government employees such as school custodians, jailhouse guards and city truck drivers. According to Asst. U.S. Attny. Lawrence LaVecchio, Browne solicited and took $500,000 from 8 companies during the 1990s in “consulting” fees to avoid unionization.
The president of Broward County‘s most powerful government employee union took payoffs from companies who didn’t want to be unionized, federal prosecutors charged in the opening day of the union boss’s racketeering trial. Browne is also charged with giving his sister, Patricia Devaney, a union-owned car as a gift and charging the union for personal travel and phone calls. He also faces state charges for allegedly running a high-stakes poker game at the union hall. Devaney is accused of embezzling $116,000 from the union by issuing unauthorized payroll checks to herself, her daughter and her estranged husband and then depositing them in her bank account. She is also accused of accepting the car and using union credit cards to buy personal airline tickets.
“They ran [the union] as a business – a business to line their own pockets in a greedy way to the detriment of unsuspecting union members,” LaVecchio said. Browne’s attny. argued that he is the victim of internal politics, and that he had no idea his sister was stealing. Devaney’s lawyer claimed that his client was the victim of a deepening gambling addiction who stole from the union to cover her gambling debts, but eventually paid it back.
In 1996 Browne pled guilty in connection with an indictment that accused him of rigging a union election. Browne only pled guilty to tampering with the mail and received 2 years’ probation. But as part of the plea deal, Browne was also required him to open financial records that provided fodder for the current charges. [Miami Herald, 4/8/04: Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 4/5/04]