Ronald and Anita Witt enjoyed the good life, especially luxury cars and trips to Hawaii. They’re now facing a potential trip to prison. On Friday, July 8, Mr. and Mrs. Witt, respectively, business manager and financial secretary of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 450, were arrested by U.S. Marshals and charged in Houston federal court that day with embezzling more than $150,000 from the union’s general fund and job training benefit plan, and forging records to conceal the thefts. The couple also faces a civil suit filed by the Houston-based local on April 21 alleging “$750,000 in unlawful expenditures.” Ronald Witt denies all criminal and civil allegations, claiming he has receipts that will exonerate him and his wife.
IOUE Local 450 represents over a thousand crane rigging and hoisting workers in southern and eastern Texas. Husband Ronald Witt, now 64, served as the union’s business manager and a trustee of its Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee; wife Anita, 56, was financial secretary and committee coordinator. During the period May 2007-April 2009, notes the 15-count grand jury indictment, the pair enriched themselves at union expense by more than $150,000. Of that sum, $89,281 came from the general fund and $60,922 came from the training fund. When it came to spending the money, the couple didn’t skimp on luxury. They allegedly bought six first-class air tickets to Hawaii in July 2008 and took another Hawaii trip in February 2009, staying at the $995-per-night Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Maui. They also traveled to Las Vegas. Each trip occurred around the time of a union convention, though neither husband nor wife was in attendance. The couple also allegedly used union funds to rebuild their Galveston waterfront home damaged by Hurricane Ike in September 2008. And they had a thing for Cadillacs, buying seven trucks and cars bearing the hallowed brand name. And this case is apart from the civil suit.
Ronald Witt disputed all charges in a July 11 phone interview with the Galveston County Daily News. He said that he goes to union conventions only once every five years, further denying ever going to Las Vegas. As for his Hawaii trips – one of them anyway – he claimed to have left early after coming down ill. Witt insisted the $275,000 he’d spent on post-Hurricane Ike home repairs came from a bank loan, not from union coffers. Anita Witt declined to comment. The couple may have a long battle ahead to prove their innocence. The indictment and arrest follow an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards and Employee Benefits Security Administration.