Court Reinstates Conviction of New Jersey Electrical Workers Business Agent

IBEW logoFor a while, Richard “Buzzy” Dressel wasn’t certain whether he would be headed for prison. He’s more certain now. On August 13, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reinstated the jury guilty verdict of Dressel, former business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 164, on charges of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Paramus, N.J.-based union and its job training fund. In reversing U.S. District Judge William Martini’s decision of April 2014 that had tossed out two embezzlement convictions, the appellate court stated: “The jury’s verdict was not irrational, as there was sufficient evidence to convict Dressel of embezzling union funds.” Dressel allegedly had used the money to provide his girlfriend (and now wife) with a no-show union job and to bankroll her catering business with a no-bid contract.

Union Corruption Update reported on this case twice before. Back in November 2012, Richard Dressel, at the time 63, along with IBEW Local 164 President John DeBouter, 55, were indicted in Newark federal court on eight counts of embezzling a combined $350,000 during January 2008-March 2010. Of that sum, about $150,000 allegedly had been pilfered from the union and another $200,000 was fleeced from the local’s Joint Apprentice Training Fund (JATF). A U.S. Labor Department investigation discovered that Dressel had provided girlfriend Kathleen Libonati, 54, with a portion of the funds to promote her catering business, part of a “captive lunch program” requiring the JATF to use her service four days a week to about 40 trainees. He also paid her a generous salary and benefit package as a no-show office employee and then manager. Additionally, Dressel and DeBouter, who was director of the JATF, allegedly demanded that the union executive board reimburse the union for sums “mistakenly” paid to Libonati.

After an eight-week trial, a federal jury convicted Dressel in November 2013 of embezzlement and conspiracy; DeBouter was indefinitely excused from the case after his lawyer became physically incapacitated. Dressel’s lawyer, Jeffrey Smith, far from being incapacitated, was just getting started. At the close of the trial, Smith asked for an acquittal on both counts due to insufficient evidence. On April 10, 2014, U.S. District Judge William Martini granted him the request, arguing that the prosecution had not proven its case. The feds appealed this ruling. And on August 13 of this year, they prevailed. A three-judge appeals court in Philadelphia unanimously ruled that the evidence proved that Dressel hired Libonati without soliciting bids, misrepresented the need and cost of her catering services to union trustees, and “engaged in strong-arm tactics that created a culture where dissent was not tolerated.” Union rank and file might be breathing, and eating, a little more comfortably.

Postscript: There have been several subsequent developments in this story. In January 2016, Judge Martini sentenced Dressel to four months in prison and ordered him to pay $37,778 in restitution. Five months later, former Local 164 President John DeBouter pleaded guilty in Newark federal court to misdemeanor charges of falsely stating the amount of time worked by Ms. Libonati so as to inflate her compensation. Libonati, along with retired local Treasurer Charles Mattson, already had been convicted on misdemeanor embezzlement charges, and received probation.