The indictment of Melissa King may have been a formality, but members of the union from which she allegedly stole on a staggering scale are satisfied all the same. On February 17, King, former longtime benefits administrator of Laborers International Union of North America Local 147, better known as the “Sandhogs,” was indicted by a federal grand jury for embezzling more than $40 million from three benefit funds sponsored by the New York City tunnel-diggers union. She had been arrested on November 30 and charged the following day in Manhattan federal court. Such are the consequences of a ceaseless quest for the high life.
Union Corruption Update in December had reported that King, 58, a resident of Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y., for some 30 years had served as a benefits contractor for Sandhog member benefit funds. She collected contributions from employers, made payments to members, and maintained payroll and accounting records. Apparently, she was better at paying herself than paying union members. During 2002-08, federal prosecutors allege, the four-times-divorced King, who had filed for bankruptcy a decade ago, looted around $42 million from the labor organization’s coffers, with much of the take going for her daughter’s equestrian career, mortgage payments on her pricey residence, and high-end shopping sprees – spending that was lavish even for someone whose annual compensation came to exceed $500,000. The union severed Ms. King’s contract in late 2008.
“King is charged with stealing more than $40 million that was intended for the union’s hard-working employees and used it to fund an extravagant lifestyle that included expensive jewelry, luxury cars, chartered jets and even a stable of horses,” remarked U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara. Her defense lawyer, Peter Till, paints an opposite picture. “Miss King denies the charges and we are actively engaged in preparing a response,” he said. Whatever the outcome – and it doesn’t look good for King – the main concern of union members is getting their money back. As for the leadership and trustees of Local 147, they must have been sleeping on the job.