Were it not for an overheard telephone call, Annette Jones might still be ripping off her union. Accidents will happen. On May 9, Jones, former treasurer of American Federation of Government Employees Local 331, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland to bank fraud in connection with her embezzlement over a three-year period of more than $80,000 in funds from her union, which represents about 760 employees of Perry Point VA Medical Center in Cecil County, Md. She had been indicted on multiple counts last June. The plea follows an investigation by the Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards and the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Inspector General. Sentencing is set for September 10.
According to prosecutors, Jones, now 45, a resident of Port Deposit, Md., conducted a pair of fraud schemes against AFGE Local 331. By far the largest occurred during July 2012-July 2015 in which Jones stole $80,944.80. She accomplished this by forging colleagues’ signatures on 335 separate union checks that she wrote and cashed in her name or deposited at various financial institutions. The smaller scheme occurred during January 2014-July 2015 during which on 20 occasions she used her union credit card for personal expenses totaling $1,235.93. Grand total: $82,180.73. She was able to conceal these schemes because her position as treasurer gave her exclusive control over union financial affairs. Jones frequently recorded false information or never recorded it in the first place. In addition, she provided false information to the union executive board and members.
The pattern of theft began to unravel in July 2015 when the Local 331 vice president overheard a phone call during which Jones had attempted to purchase a smart phone for a family member with her union credit card. The vice president then reported the conversation to the president, who in turn searched Jones’ office and found two uncashed union checks payable to Jones. Both had forged signatures of the president. The union president then met with the manager of the bank where the union had its account, and the pair reviewed all checks made out to Jones over the previous three months. In every case, the president’s signature had been forged. A review of union credit card purchases likewise showed that Jones had made personal charges with the card. At that point, the union removed Jones from her post, and Jones in turn resigned her job with the Perry Point VA hospital. Eventually, the Justice Department filed charges. As part of her plea agreement, she will have to pay full restitution and serve two years in prison.