Former BTU leader charged

Posted on 18 July 2012 by LeslieM

By Rachel Galvin

Former Broward Teachers Union (BTU) president Pat Santeramo turned himself in to Broward County Jail Tuesday morning after being charged with one count of Racketeering and 19 other theft-related and campaignfraud charges.

The charges come after an investigation conducted by the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the Broward State Attorney’s Office. What prompted this closer look into Santeramo was discrepancies that arose after a financial audit was conducted by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) last summer.

President of AFT Randi Weingarten said, “The audit was done in response to a letter to me from a member of the BTU board. In the course of that audit, AFT staff became aware of certain irregularities indicating that BTU had made improper reimbursements to individuals for political contributions to candidates and/or party committees.” Following that discovery, the legal authorities were contacted. Under scrutiny, Santeramo resigned back in December and BTU staff asked for AFT to establish an administratorship over the union. BTU administrator John Tarka and his team worked with AFT to continue their look into the financials. Weingarten continued, “The allegations against him [Santeramo] go far beyond reimbursement of political contributions, and suggest a serious level of financial abuse.”

The Warrant to Arrest for Santeramo was signed Monday by Broward Circuit Court Judge Ilona Holmes. Besides the Racketeering charge, Santeramo was charged with six counts of Grand Theft; five counts of Campaign Contribution Violations; four counts of Money Laundering; three counts of Organized Scheme to Defraud and one count of Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering.

“Santeramo, while using his unilateral control of the union’s business to include contracting, vendor approval, payment authorization and distribution of union assets, manipulated the union’s business, accounting and financial operations for his own benefit,” according to the Affidavit to Arrest.

According to information from the Broward State Attorney’s Office, between 2001 and January 2012, investigators found that Santeramo was able to divert approximately $165,500 in union funds to himself through an invoicekickback scheme with a construction company. In one of those 43 instances of racketeering, he had the company bill BTU $89,295 for repairing the BTU building elevators and the company gave $20,000 of the union’s payment back to Santeramo in cash.

Santeramo is also accused of making a series of illegal campaign contributions by having 25 individuals, including BTU members, make donations to a variety of candidates for which he then reimbursed them with BTU funds.

In addition, Santeramo improperly collected more than $121,848 by claiming false sick time and vacation time. Santeramo’s attorney is Benedict P. Kuehne, who, along with Santeramo, denies the charges and indicates larger political influences may be at play.

Kuehne said,” Unfortunately, in today’s troubling political times, the righteous cause of organized labor is under assault. His [Santeramo] battle against inaccurate law enforcement charges is just another effort to dismantle public and private unions throughout America.”

Santeramo added, “I call upon the legions of teachers, parents and students whose lives have improved during my time of BTU leadership to withhold judgment, as I now dedicate my attention to yet another battle. With your support and the ever-present sustenance of my family, I am confident I will prevail.”

Judge Holmes set bond for Santeramo at $480,000. According to Ron Ishoy of the Broward State Attorney’s Office, as of press time, “Santeramo remains in jail while they are trying to ascertain where the bond money comes from. If unable to prove it is from a legitimate source, it would go to a Nebbia (or bail source) hearing.”

He added that once Santeramo is formally charged, he would be set for a trial. The racketeering charge alone, listed along with one of the grand theft charges as a first-degree felony, could land Santeramo in prison for up to 30 years if he is convicted.

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