Terri Lou Dunkelberger was a heroine to her fellow employees. Yet unbeknownst to them, she also likely had been ripping them off. Dunkelberger, an employee of the Sioux Falls bus system and former financial secretary of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1356, was indicted in U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota on June 3 for embezzling more than $24,000 in union funds. She pleaded not guilty the following day. Dunkelberger is currently out on bond. If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison.
According to prosecutors, Dunkelberger, 52, during January 2008-December 2009 diverted $24,148.98 from Local 1356 to her own use. For much of this time she was a frequent spokeswoman for the union during a protracted contract dispute with First Transit, the company that manages the municipal bus system. A 2007 contract imposed on unionized employees was overturned through arbitration the following year. Dunkelberger in the process lost her job as a maintenance manager’s assistant. Co-workers supported her, claiming she’d been illegally fired for her union activities. She won her job back through arbitration. Neither local President Bruce Burnham nor Sioux Area Metro General Manager Karen Walton had been aware that Dunkelberger had been under investigation for theft.