Broward County Teachers Boss Sentenced for Fraud, Kickbacks

teachers desk reducedPatrick Santeramo’s union career ended several years ago, but the fallout continues. On April 22, Santeramo, who had run the Broward Teachers Union for a decade, was sentenced in Fort Lauderdale federal court to 18 months in prison, to be followed by two years of supervised release, for wire fraud in a school district-funded, union-run program. He also was ordered to pay $93,800 in restitution and a $4,000 fine. The prison term will run consecutive to a five-year sentence handed down days earlier in a state case involving allegations of contractor kickbacks and false reimbursements. Santeramo was convicted in January by a jury in the state case; he pleaded guilty in February in the federal case. The actions follow a probe by the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General.

Union Corruption Update, back in July 2012 and again this March, summarized the travails of Pat Santeramo. Now 68, Santeramo headed the Broward Teachers Union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, during 2001-11. The former elementary school band director, known for an autocratic style of management, developed a legal and ethical blind spot. His downfall seemed more a case of “when” than “if.” And the downfall, in the federal case, would result from his role in a union-run “accountability program” created in the Nineties by a collective bargaining agreement. The program provided $80,000 a year for teacher professional development. Santeramo ran the operation – and not with accountability in mind. Federal prosecutors alleged that during 2006-11 he diverted $93,800 from the program account, keeping $34,500 for himself and distributing another $59,300 to three individuals who were unaware that the money was stolen. The scheme unraveled after the Broward County School Board, not having received financial reports as required by the agreement, conducted an inquiry. The arrows pointed to Santeramo. He resigned his post sometime in the latter part of 2011. Though initially pleading not guilty, he changed his plea to guilty to one count of mail fraud this February 12, receiving an 18-month sentence last Friday.

In a state case running parallel to the federal case, Florida prosecutors charged Santeramo in July 2012 with obtaining about $300,000 in unauthorized union funds. About $165,000 consisted of kickbacks from a building contractor who performed work at BTU headquarters; another $120,000 came from improper reimbursements for unused sick and vacation pay; and nearly $130,000 represented unauthorized or undocumented credit card charges. In addition, he used union funds to reimburse BTU employees who donated to union-endorsed political candidates, including Hillary Clinton during her run for president in 2008. This January 20, after a trial that began last October, the jury came back with a guilty verdict on eight of nine counts. Santeramo was sentenced last week in the kickback scheme to five years in prison, to be followed by five years of probation.

In perhaps the unkindest cut of all, Pat Santeramo will be doing more prison time than he expected. The original plea agreement called for concurrent (i.e., completely overlapping) state and federal sentences. But U.S. District Judge William Zloch informed Santeramo that he was not bound by that agreement. Judge Zloch proceeded to impose an 18-month federal prison term after completion of the five-year state term. “I regret and accept my actions,” said Santeramo. His legal team of Benedict Kuehne and Larry Davis are undecided as to whether they will appeal the sentencing. It’s hard to see what can be appealed.