Federal prosecutors presented a picture of a union existing solely to serve its founder and his sister in a trial that began on April 14. Walter Browne and his sister, Patricia Devaney, are on trial in the U.S. Dist. Ct. for the Sou. Dist. for Fla. on racketeering, fraud and embezzlement charges.
Debra Weiler testified that she met Browne when he created the Natl. Fedtn. of Public Employees (NFPE) in 1994, splitting it off from the Marine Engineers Beneficial Assn. According to Weiler, the NFPE’s secy.-treasurer complained that he was denied access to the union’s financial records. She also testified that Browne and Devaney had exclusive use of 2 out of 6 union cars. In Devaney’s case, Weiler said, it was hardly ever used for union business. Weiler, however, said she had to use her own car to cash union checks for Devaney to spend on poker games at the union hall, take Browne’s mother to the doctor, and his son to the movies and amusement parks. Weiler agreed to testify against Browne and Devaney in 2001, after admitting she embezzled about $44,000 from the union.
Later, frmr. union organizer Ernest Rumsby testified that he once accompanied Browne to Paramount Vending Co., where Browne picked up a check. When Rumsby suggested trying to organize the company, Browne said, “We can’t mess with this company. This person is a friend.” In earlier testimony, Paramount‘s Albert Miniaci said that Paramount paid some $15,000 in consulting fees to Browne, which prosecutors said guaranteed that Browne would not organize the firm.
Defense lawyer Bruce Udolf is arguing that the two defendants have made enemies who were willing to “tell the FBI anything they wanted to hear.” On May 4, a juror was dismissed by U.S. Dist. Judge Jose B. Martinez (S.D. FL, G.W. Bush), after other jurors said they heard him constantly muttering “guilty.” But Judge Martinez rejected defense lawyers’ requests for a mistrial, saying that the muttering had not influenced other jurors. [Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 4/14, 4/20, 5/5, 2004]