The trial of three persons connected with the massive embezzlement and money-laundering scandal at the Washington Teachers Union (WTU), an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, resumed after the holiday weekend, with some key testimony for the prosecution from shady characters. Given that high-living ex-president Barbara Bullock and several other defendants already have pleaded guilty, it’s a stretch to figure out why the remaining three defendants – office manager Gwendolyn Hemphill, financial manager James Baxter II, and outside accountant James Goosby – haven’t copped a plea as well. Bullock currently is serving a nine-year prison sentence.
The first to take the witness stand, on July 5, was one Errol Alderman, a close friend of Michael Martin and the son-in-law of Hemphill. Alderman, 30, established a shell company, Expressions Unlimited, on behalf of Martin. He defended his action as a favor to Martin, 45, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. That self-enrichment was not on Alderman’s mind, however, might be a bit hard to believe. Expressions Unlimited from the very start was a bogus front. Alderman cashed union checks, knowing they would be diverted to the defendants’ personal use, and then hid the money. He insisted he did these things out of friendship with Martin. “I accepted checks written to me that I didn’t work for, [but] I didn’t get a dime for it,” stated Alderman. Expressions Unlimited laundered at least $480,000, roughly a tenth of the estimated overall $4.6 million in embezzled union funds. Martin already has been convicted for conspiracy to launder money, and is awaiting sentencing.
The next day, July 6, Bullock’s former chauffeur, Leroy Holmes, testified. Holmes, who in 2003 pleaded guilty to money laundering, admitted that his annual income was $97,500, plus health insurance, a down payment on a Cadillac DeVille, and other benefits. He “earned” that money by driving Bullock and other officials on lavish shopping sprees, and more ominously, cashed about $1.4 million worth of unauthorized union checks. Holmes also testified that Goosby, the accountant, prepared his income taxes in a way that would protect him against an audit of union finances. Another person to testify that day was John Traina, a longtime Washington, D.C. school teacher who also had served as a member of both the union’s executive board and board of trustees. Traina stated that both entities relied on Baxter to provide details on debts, but that they couldn’t get any straight answers. Often, Baxter would claim, falsely, that he’d paid union creditors. A new round of guilty pleas at this point seems inevitable.