Robert Smith III saw his union as a free ATM machine for his personal expenses. His next few years are going to be costly. On February 2, Smith, former business agent and financial secretary of International Longshoremen’s Association Local 970, was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to 41 months in prison, to be followed by three years of probation for embezzling more than $1 million in funds from the Norfolk-based union. He had pleaded guilty last October following an investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards.
Smith, now 49, a resident of Virginia Beach, ran the finances of ILA Local 970 whose members work the docks and terminals at Port of Virginia. In addition to representing workers, unfortunately, he also was stealing from them. According to prosecutors, during March 2006-April 2016 Smith deposited new member initiation fees and employer-forwarded dues into a local bank account, diverting the funds to cover a wide range of personal expenses. During that decade, he ripped off a grand total of $1,072,669.10, over $700,000 of which represented cash withdrawals. Eventually, suspicious union officials conducted an audit, discovering an “unauthorized and previously undisclosed account” into which “funds were deposited and withdrawn allegedly for non-union purposes.” The union then notified the Department of Labor, which concluded that Smith had not filed a financial report with the DOL in at least a decade. The Justice Department conducted its own probe corroborating earlier findings. Smith resigned his union posts last April and was charged in September with mail fraud.