Former Union Head Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Embezzle
|Jan. 19, 2012|
HOUSTON - Ronald Witt, 65, of Galveston, Texas, the former business manager of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 450, pleaded guilty late this morning to conspiracy to embezzle union funds, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today along with District Director Daniel Cherry of the Office of Labor Management Standards, Department of Labor (OLMS). Local 450’s primary officer is its business manager.
During today’s hearing before U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt, Witt admitted that he used Local 450's funds to pay for luxury trips for himself and friends, to remodel his Galveston home and for various other personal expenses. Witt also admitted that he took funds destined for other purposes and that he covered up the scheme by forging Local 450's business records.
"The improper use of labor union funds is a serious offense,” said Magidson. “Our office will continue to prosecute cases involving those that use labor union funds for personal gain.”
Local 450 represents approximately 1,000 members employed in the crane rigging and hoisting industry in southern and eastern Texas. Local 450, a non-profit organization, receives most of its income from monthly dues payments and three percent working dues from its members. Witt resigned his leadership of Local 450 in April 2009, at which time it was taken over by the International.
Previously released on bond, Witt was allowed to remain on bond pending his sentencing hearing, set for April 23, 2012, at which time he faces a maximum of five years imprisonment as well as a $250,000 fine.
The year-long investigation leading to these charges was prompted by a referral from the International Union of Operating Engineers.
“OLMS continuously updates its website, www.olms.dol.gov, to provide labor unions with the tools needed to stay informed and comply with the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA),” said Cherry. “The OLMS website provides access to union annual financial reports, makes available compliance tips and other publications and offers suggestions for improving unions' internal financial controls. In this case, the union had the resources necessary, recognized there was a problem and reported it to OLMS. As a result, OLMS was able to investigate the matter and seek justice for the dues-paying members of Local 450.”
The investigation was conducted by OLMS and the Employee Benefits Security Administration and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys F. Andino Reynal and Edward Gallagher.