VA Hospital Union Official Arrested for Stealing from Union
BIRMINGHAM -- Federal authorities on Wednesday arrested the former president of the federal employees union at Birmingham's Veterans Affairs Hospital on charges she embezzled more than $132,000 from the local chapter.
A federal grand jury last month indicted STEPHANIE HICKS, 43, of Birmingham, on bank fraud, forgery and aggravated identity theft charges. U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General, Special Agent in Charge Monty Stokes, and U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Labor-Management Standards, Investigator Hollis Lindley Jr. announced the indictment, which was unsealed following Hicks' arrest.
"Union members elect officials to represent them and protect their interests," Vance said. "A labor union official who chooses, instead, to live the high life by stealing from local members has committed a crime and should prepare to go to prison."
"This indictment is a testament to the excellent interagency cooperation with the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Justice," Stokes said. "As president of the local union, Hicks represented Local 2207, with more than 400 VA members. VA OIG will continue to pursue those that abuse their positions of trust and steal from innocent victims."
"OLMS aggressively investigates allegations of financial mismanagement by union officers," Lindley said. "Union members have an expectation that their elected officers are using the union funds for legitimate union purposes," he said. "This particular case was severe in the amount of money stolen and in the degree of concealment."
Hicks was elected president of the American Federation of Government Employees, Local 2207, AFL-CIO, at the Birmingham VA Hospital in July 2007 and served until July 2013 when members elected a new president. The local collects dues biweekly from its more than 440 members. During Hicks' tenure, the local maintained the money in two bank accounts -- a general operating account and a legal fund account, first at Wachovia Bank and, following a merger, at Wells Fargo Bank, according to the indictment.
From at least Jan. 1, 2008 until July 26, 2013, Hicks schemed to defraud the banks, using her position as Local 2207 president to conduct unauthorized transactions taking money from the union's accounts to use for her personal benefit, the indictment charges.
Those transactions included writing checks to herself for travel that did not take place, forging the name of other Local 2207 officers and members on checks she wrote to herself, and making unauthorized debit card purchases and cash withdrawals, according to the indictment.
To conceal her fraud, Hicks did not maintain records of the financial transactions, as required by federal law and Local 2207's constitution and bylaws, nor did she seek approval for the expenditures, the indictment charges.
The indictment brings eight bank fraud, eight forged security and three aggravated identity theft counts against Hicks.
The maximum prison penalty for bank fraud is 30 years and for forged securities, 10 years. Both charges carry a $250,000 fine. The penalty for aggravated identity theft is two years in prison, in addition to any time received as punishment on the other charges.
Veterans Affairs, OIG, and the Department of Labor, OLMS and OIG, investigated the case, which Assistant U.S. Attorney Xavier O. Carter is prosecuting.
The public is reminded that an indictment contains only charges. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.