AFSCME City Workers in Pasadena Suspended; Probes Are Underway

For certain members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 858, out-of-town union events provided an opportunity for good side money. The issue is whether they attended those events or whether the events themselves even happened. On August 20, the City of Pasadena placed three municipal workers on leave in light of evidence that they received “highly questionable” payments from the union totaling nearly $65,000. The trio, plus two former City employees, are the focus of a separate ongoing AFSCME probe. Nobody has been arrested or charged. Indeed, police so far have not been called in to investigate. But union investigators believe that there is a real possibility of criminal activity. AFSCME Administrator Jeff Bigelow terms the expenses “unusual, inappropriate and possibly unlawful.”

AFSCME Local 858 represents nearly 300 employees of the City of Pasadena, located in the northern portion of Los Angeles County. Union members often attend union-related conferences and conventions, receiving reimbursements for travel, hotel stays, meals and other expenses. But these claims haven’t necessarily been what they seem to be. AFSCME headquarters in Washington, D.C. recently discovered $64,700 worth of transfers and checks from Local 858 accounts written out to five local members for travel, conference and training reimbursements that lacked sufficient documentation. Three of the members, Anthony Hackett (vice president), Sherene Young (secretary-treasurer) and Andrew Hunter (executive board member), are active Pasadena municipal employees, and have been placed on paid administrative leave. The two other members, Marchell Parker (former president) and Lorenzo Parker (former recording secretary), recently resigned their jobs.

The City of Pasadena, like AFSCME, has launched an investigation. “Although the allegations concern union funds and business, and not City funds and business,” wrote City Manager Steve Mermell, “it is prudent to place these employees on administrative leave until additional information can be obtained and the matter investigated by the City.” His office will have quite a bit to chew on. According to a decision by Richard Abelson, chairman of AFSCME’s judicial panel, the five union members under scrutiny likely had engaged in embezzlement. The focus is especially on Local 858 Vice President Anthony Hackett, who received $41,700 in reimbursements associated with trips to union conferences and/or training sessions in Las Vegas and San Diego that likely never happened. Marchell Parker, for his part, had received $9,600 worth of reimbursement checks related to a Las Vegas conference even though some of these checks contained no information on the memo line.

In addition to the strong possibility of embezzlement here, officials of Local 858 also reportedly have resisted holding scheduled elections or meetings. What few meetings were held in 2016 and 2017, noted Abelson, contained no financial reporting. The suspected workers also have proven uncooperative in turning over requested bank documents to AFSCME headquarters. All this was enough to convince headquarters in June to replace local leadership with two administrators, Jeff Bigelow and Kevin Brown. Law enforcement involvement might be just around the corner.