Four Officials of Independent Southern California Union Indicted for $900K in Thefts

At United Industrial and Service Workers of America, stealing apparently was a family affair – a Romero family affair. On January 21, husband and wife John S. and Evelyn Romero, and their two adult children, John J. and Danae Romero – each a former union official – were indicted by a federal grand jury on 40 counts related mainly to their looting of about $900,000 from the Colton (San Bernardino County), Calif. union. A week later, on January 28, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California unsealed the indictment following the arrest of the four defendants earlier that day. The actions follow a joint probe by the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards, Office of Inspector General and Employee Benefits Security Administration.

United Industrial and Service Workers of America (UISWA), also known as UISWA Local 101, is an independent union representing workers across a wide range of occupations in Southern California’s Inland Empire area. Unfortunately, its members weren’t aware that a large portion of their dues payments had been going to their leaders’ personal bank accounts. Federal prosecutors allege that former UISWA President John S. Romero, now 68, and his wife, Evelyn, 66, who succeeded him as president until June 2014, along with son, former Secretary-Treasurer John J. Romero, 50, and daughter, Danae Romero, 37, also a union officer, during 2006-14 conspired to embezzle assets from the union general fund and its health plan. Moreover, prosecutors charge, the family concealed more than $100,000 in revenues and disbursements on annual union financial reports they had submitted to the Department of Labor.

According to the indictment, the union made monthly payments for a nonexistent office in Nevada, when in fact these payments had gone to a Nevada-based shell company created by the elder John Romero, and his wife and daughter. Much of the fraud involved health plan assets. The family allegedly placed assets in the name of a construction company associated with a third-party administrator and collected payments without the trustees’ knowledge. The Romeros also pilfered funds for a variety of personal uses, such as $110,000 for expenses in a separate civil suit involving father and son; recycling assets from the health plan reserve fund to its operating account to cover their own health insurance expenses; and pay off a car loan owed by another family member. In addition to all this, the indictment alleges that the Romeros hired another family member for a union post knowing of the latter’s felony narcotics conviction.

The beginning of the end was two years ago. In early 2013, the Labor Department received an anonymous phone call alleging irregularities in the management of union trust funds. The complaint triggered a broad investigation culminating in last month’s indictments and arrests. This wasn’t the family’s first brush with the law either. In a 2009 case, father and son each pled guilty to one count of making false statements in a case involving a separate labor organization, the Amalgamated Industrial Workers Union. In that instance, the Romeros were accused of filing a financial statement that omitted mention of union bank accounts. More than once, Union Corruption Update has served notice that the family that stays together, steals together. This would qualify as a prime example.