Leslie Patricia Bell made off like a bandit back when she ran the books for Laborers Local 1184. Now she’s being prosecuted like one. The Justice Department announced on May 4 that they had charged the 39-year-old Palm Desert, Calif. woman with embezzling more than $178,000 from the union. From 1997 until her termination in July 2003, Bell served as full-time bookkeeper for the local, which represents some 3,200 construction, maintenance and grounds keeping workers in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. Since she already had pled guilty, the announcement would have seemed anticlimactic. But the U.S. Attorney’s Office believes the case is serious enough to warrant formal charges.
There’s good reason for this. Bell was responsible for paying Local 1184’s bills as well as receiving and depositing member dues. Evidence from a Labor Department probe revealed she began stealing from the local in May 2001, deriving most of her take through diversion of dues collections. Yet some of the ill-gotten gains came from an unexpected source: her husband, president of the local. She forged his signature on two checks worth a combined $22,028 to pay off income taxes and credit card debt. The couple since has divorced, and the ex-husband, whom prosecutors declined to name, is not part of the case. Bell faces a maximum five-year sentence, though her guilty plea agreement recommends a sentence at the low end of applicable federal guidelines. She also will have to make restitution to the union. (Riverside Press Enterprise, 5/5).