For George Laufenberg, there seemingly were no limits when it came to his pay. That’s why he’s no longer getting paid. On September 27, Laufenberg, former benefit funds administrator for certain New Jersey and New York affiliates of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, was indicted by a Newark federal grand jury on five counts related to his stealing more than $1.5 million in dues-funded plan assets. Alleged offenses include embezzling from an annuity fund, hiring a friend for a virtual no-show job, and concealing such schemes in a financial report. His attorney insists that his client is innocent. The indictment follows an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General and Employee Benefits Security Administration, plus the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
George Laufenberg, now 69, a resident of Harvey Cedars (Ocean County), N.J., had it pretty good for a while. He managed the New Jersey Carpenters’ Pension, Annuity, Health and Training/Apprenticeship Funds, receiving an annual salary of about $300,000. He also served on the board of commissioners of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey during 2014-17 following his appointment by New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough for him. According to prosecutors, Laufenberg used his union position to embezzle more than $1.5 million in benefit plan funds. Among his alleged offenses, he granted himself a $120,000 pension and $180,000 in annual deferred compensation without prior trustee approval; diverted annuity contributions to his own paychecks; and put a friend on his payroll who rarely showed up for work but who collected a full-time salary with benefits. Carpenters union dissenters notified federal authorities of these activities, which triggered a full-scale investigation. Laufenberg faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each offense.
There are likely other players in this scandal. And the evidence points to the top of the union food chain. In October 2018, John Ballantyne, former executive secretary-treasurer for the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters and a trustee of a number of union benefit funds, aided by former UBC employees Robert Weakly and Laura Czarneski, filed a lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court alleging that union headquarters had dissolved the council as an excuse for getting rid of Ballantyne and his subordinates. The complaint alleged a long pattern of “self-dealing and corruption” by Carpenters International President Douglas McCarron and two other top union officials, Frank Spencer and Michael Capelli. It was John Ballantyne, in fact, who fired Laufenberg. In other words, Ballantyne may have gotten too close to a bigger scandal. Could it be that McCarron and his loyalists were covering for Laufenberg? If so, federal prosecutors may have a lot of work ahead.