Maybe Theresa Waters must have thought that union benefits referred to union funds that could benefit her. Waters, a former administrative assistant for the South Central Laborers Training and Apprenticeship Fund, pleaded guilty on Monday, April 18 in Baton Rouge federal court to one count of embezzling nearly $500,000 over four years in benefits intended for employees of unionized contractors in five states. In return for her guilty plea, prosecutors agreed not to pursue additional charges against her. A sentencing date has not yet been set. She faces up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and a restitution order.
Waters, 45, formerly a resident of Rosedale, Louisiana now living in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, began working for the Livonia, La.-based South Central Laborers Training and Apprenticeship Fund (SCLTAF) in September 2003. The fund administers welfare benefits for employees of contractors affiliated with the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) in the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas. Beginning in or about December 2004 and continuing until around November 2008, Waters developed a scheme to divert union funds to her own use. In a preferred method, she would use her SCLTAF-issued credit card to buy personal items and then draw upon the union training fund account to pay the bill. She concealed her scheme by altering fund credit card statements as they were received and generating altered statements that omitted reference to the purchases. Her total theft over the four-year period: $491,706.
The scam eventually unraveled after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) revealed unexplained discrepancies in the training fund account. Roger Hilburn, EBSA Regional Director in Dallas, summarized the department’s position after the guilty plea: “I hope this sends a clear message to all who sponsor or transact business with employee benefit plans that the federal government will aggressively pursue those who commit crimes against employees and retirees of private-sector pension and health plans.”