Considering how much he stole, Tyrone Freeman should consider himself lucky. This past Monday, on October 7, Freeman, ex-president of Service Employees International Union Local 6434, was sentenced in Los Angeles federal court to two years and nine months in prison for stealing union funds and making false statements in connection with obtaining a mortgage loan. He also was ordered to pay about $150,000 in restitution. Prior to his ouster by SEIU International President Andrew Stern in 2008, Freeman had been considered by many to be Stern’s heir apparent. He was indicted last July on 15 criminal counts and convicted this January on 14 of them. “I am accountable for these bad decisions,” Freeman stated at his sentencing. Unfortunately, his offenses were more than simply bad business decisions.
Union Corruption Update has covered this case many times. Tyrone Freeman, a rising star in Southern California labor circles by mid-decade, headed the 180,000-member SEIU Local 6434, also known as United Long-Term Care Workers. He also ran a joint SEIU-AFSCME project, California United Homecare Workers. And he had become a key fundraiser for Los Angeles County Democratic Party politicians. But Freeman’s standing collapsed during the second half of 2008 following a Los Angeles Times serial expose indicating he had been illegally siphoning off union funds to himself, family members and friends, while spending lavishly on entertainment. Worse, he had used the local and a related nonprofit group, Alliance for a Stronger Community, to shake down union rank and file for millions of dollars worth of “contributions” in monetary donations and free labor for political campaigns.
Back at SEIU headquarters in Washington, D.C., Andrew Stern launched an internal probe. He tried to stand by his man, but realized in short order that the evidence of wrongdoing was overwhelming. The investigation concluded Freeman made unauthorized use of more than $1.1 million in union funds. Stern placed Freeman on temporary leave that September and made the dismissal permanent two months later. The SEIU filed a civil suit in California state court to recover the funds. Separate from that, the international union referred the case to the U.S. Justice Department. The FBI, IRS and Labor Department would conduct a nearly four-year joint criminal investigation. Last July 31, a federal grand jury handed down a 15-count indictment. Freeman pleaded not guilty, choosing to take the case to trial. It was a poor choice. The jury convicted him on nearly all counts. Freeman’s wife, Pilar Planells, already had pleaded guilty on a related tax evasion charge. Freeman’s sentence might appear light given the amount he stole, but he will have to wait at least 13 years after prison release before being eligible to hold union office again.