As general manager of San Diego’s largest municipal employee union, Judie Italiano wanted extra perks to take the place of the ones she lost. That desire now has cost her a job. Ms. Italiano until late May had been the longtime general manager of the San Diego Municipal Employees Association (SDMEA), an independent 6,000-member union. She resigned following an internal investigation revealing she had made nearly $14,000 in unauthorized credit card charges to cover personal expenses. And while she’s paid back the money, the scandal suggests ongoing political turmoil.
Judie Italiano, an employee of the SDMEA for some two dozen years, was no stranger to controversy. During the City of San Diego pension scandals of several years ago, the IRS had determined that she was using her union credit card to charge up to $70,000 annually. This was ironic given that she had been feuding with Mayor Jerry Sanders over his insistence that union employees accept wages and pension benefit reductions. The association proceeded to enact a new policy to limit card use. The issue sparked a probe by then-City Attorney Michael Aguirre and eventually a lawsuit this past May by two union members. Yet during this time Italiano charged an additional $13,903 in unauthorized expenses. Following an internal audit, the union placed her on leave, triggering her resignation on May 22. Italiano subsequently sent the association a check to cover her indebtedness plus interest and advances on leave time.
The union has turned the matter over to the district attorney’s office. “Judie has been here at MEA for so long that she controlled a lot of the flow of the information, and the officers and the board were not made aware of any of this activity at all,” said President Tony Ruiz III. “I was disappointed in that we had gone through this pain back in 2006 and agreed that this wasn’t gong to continue, and now it happened. It was a breach of trust.” Former San Diego City Councilman Michael Zucchet, a consultant to the union, has served as acting general manager since Ms. Italiano took a leave of absence. (San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/30/09; Los Angeles Times, 5/30/09).