Couple Pleads Guilty to Ripping Off Texas LIUNA Local; Sentenced

Orville and Teri Rae Merritt aren’t married to each other anymore. They’re probably relieved, too. On October 18, Orville Merritt, ex-business manager and treasurer of Laborers International Union of North America Local 1168, pleaded guilty in the 78th District Court of Texas for his role in the theft of nearly $46,000 in funds from the Wichita Falls union, and was sentenced to three years in prison. His sentence reflects his creating a fake Facebook account in his wife’s name in order to defraud her. Teri Rae Merritt, now known as Teri Rae Coan, shouldn’t get much sympathy. On October 30, she was sentenced to 10 years of supervision for theft from the union, where she had been office manager. She had pleaded guilty on October 25 after being charged on October 4. Both must pay restitution. The actions follow a probe by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Laborers Local 1168 represents about 900 workers at nearly a dozen Texas employers. For a while it was bleeding money thanks to the Merritts. According to an audit by the Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards, Teri Rae Merritt/Coan, now 42, a resident of Wichita Falls, used her position as local office manager and field representative to write checks and use her union credit card to buy unauthorized personal items. The checks, written during January 9-August 21, 2015, totaled $34,661.29, while the credit card purchases totaled $7,975.23. Orville Merritt, now 43, also got into the act. He used his union credit card for unauthorized purposes totaling $3,299.76 during April 3, 2014-September 1, 2015.

At his October 18 hearing, Mr. Merritt pleaded guilty to misapplication of union property of between $30,000 and $150,000, a sum reflecting complicity in his wife’s thefts. His three-year prison sentence could have been worse, for he also pleaded “true” to violating the terms of a sentence for a separate offense in December 2016; Merritt allegedly had created a fictitious Facebook account in the name of his wife for the purpose of defrauding her. He would be given 10 years of probation on January 26, 2018. At last month’s hearing, the court dismissed a drug possession charge against him based on an incident occurring on December 30, 2018. With the Merritts out of the picture, the main concern of rank and file is making sure dues payments go for stated purposes.