Roughly three years ago the leadership of the Washington Teachers Union (WTU), an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, revealed itself to be a racket of charlatans picking the pockets of dues-paying members. One by one, culminating with local President Barbara Bullock in the fall of 2003, the major players in a complex, long-term scheme to fleece WTU coffers of at least $4.6 million, pleaded guilty in federal court. To the surprise of almost nobody, the union’s two holdouts, Office Manager Gwendolyn Hemphill and Treasurer James O. Baxter II, neither of whom could be called “educators,” failed to convince a court of their innocence.
On August 31, a federal jury found both Hemphill and Baxter guilty on nearly two dozen counts, including conspiracy, embezzlement, money laundering, and wire fraud. A third defendant, a suburban Maryland-based tax accountant, James Goosby, 56, was found not guilty of covering up the thefts. In a lengthy trial, prosecutors showed how Hemphill and Baxter, for a good half-dozen years, diverted union funds to finance an insatiable desire for cash and luxury goods. A large portion of the thefts consisted of the unauthorized usage of the local’s American Express card; another major slice of ill-gotten revenues came from a shell company, Expressions Unlimited, run by Hemphill’s son-in-law, Michael Wayne Martin, and his friend, Errol Alderman. The scheme began to unravel in the summer of 2002 when some union members complained that the WTU had tacked a surcharge onto member dues amounting to ten times the officially announced figure.
Miss Bullock, now serving a nine-year prison sentence, testified for the prosecution. Martin and Alderman each have pled guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Under federal sentencing guidelines, Hemphill faces at least 160 months in prison, while Baxter faces at least 97 months. They will know their fate December 8. “We are very pleased,” said U.S. Attorney James Cooper after the verdict. “It’s been a long road, and we’re glad [they] were finally brought to justice.” (Washington Times, 9/1).