by David Robb
November 13, 2018 4:00pm
IATSE has an embezzlement problem. In the past two years, former officers of IATSE locals in Alabama, Alaska, Virginia and Michigan have either been indicted, pleaded guilty or been sentenced for stealing funds from their local unions. Over the past decade, former treasurers, presidents and bookkeepers of IATSE locals in California, New York, Florida, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Tennessee and South Dakota have faced similar charges and have pleaded guilty or died before going to trial.
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Combined, they embezzled more than $900,000 in union funds.
Last month, Benjamin Wisecarver, the former president of IATSE Local 264 in Virginia, was indicted on three counts of embezzlement, two counts of wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for allegedly participating in a scheme to embezzle more than $57,310 from his local union. The indictment followed an investigation by the Office of Labor-Management Standards and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General.
His indictment came just three months after Dorian Nicely, the former business agent of his local, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and embezzlement in the same scheme. She and her husband, former Local 264 president Dennis Nicely, had been charged with this offense in June.
To its credit, IATSE discovered the scheme in 2014, revoked the local’s charter and notified the Labor Department. “It appeared that there were inappropriate self-dealings and misuse of assets by officers of the local,” IATSE said in a 2015 report to the DOL. “After several unanswered requests for information, the United States Department of Labor was notified of the circumstances and immediately commenced investigation.”
IATSE also filed a fidelity claim with the local’s insurance carrier for the maximum amount recoverable.
On September 28, David Hendricks, former secretary-treasurer of IATSE Local 900 in Alabama, was sentenced in U.S. District Court to five years of probation after pleading guilty of embezzling $13,987 from his local union. He was also ordered to pay full restitution and a $100 special assessment.
In April, Anne Reddig, the former secretary-treasurer of IATSE Local 918 in Anchorage, was sentenced to 14 months in prison for embezzling $193,275 from the local and converting the funds to her own personal use from March 2010 until she resigned in September 2014. According to court records, she embezzled the funds by transferring money directly from union accounts into her own accounts, forging the signature of another union officer on checks she wrote for her own benefit, using ATM machines to withdraw cash directly from union accounts and spending union funds at retail stores via the union’s debit card. As part of her sentence, she was ordered to pay $139,960 in restitution and, upon release from prison, to serve a three-year term of supervised release.
Here too, IATSE discovered the theft and reported it to the DOL. “During 2014, officers discovered what appeared to be inappropriate self-dealings, commingling of union and personal funds, and misuse of assets by the local’s former treasurer. Total disbursements made to/on behalf of the former treasurer in 2014 amounted to $70,268. The local has notified their fidelity insurance carrier.”
Two years ago, Bernadine Bell, former treasurer of IATSE Local 757 in Detroit, was sentenced to 30 days in jail after pleading guilty to embezzling $73,000 in union funds. She was also sentenced to three years of supervised release, and was ordered to pay full restitution and a $100 special assessment.
In 2015, Ira Alper, former treasurer of IATSE District 9 in Wisconsin was sentenced to four months in jail after pleading guilty to embezzling $76,768 in union funds. He was also sentenced to two years of supervised release, including six months of home detention, and ordered to pay $41,568 in restitution plus a $100 special assessment.
On March 19, 2014, a federal grand jury returned a 13-count indictment against John J. Brennan, the former secretary-treasurer of IATSE Local 23 in Rhode Island, alleging that he embezzled more than $74,000 in union and employee benefit funds. The case was dropped, however, after he died unexpectedly 10 days later. According to the indictment, while serving as administrator of the local’s Health & Welfare Fund between January 2006 and December 2011, he embezzled $33,546 in union funds and $40,510 in benefit funds. The indictment alleged that he deposited most of the money into a secret bank account unbeknownst to Local 23 officials and that he allegedly deposited some of the embezzled funds into his own personal bank accounts.
In 2013, John McNamee Jr., president of IATSE Local 829 in New York City, was sentenced to a year in jail and two years of supervised release after pleading guilty to embezzling $150,000 from the union.
On September 13, 2010, Paul Wyatt, former financial secretary-treasurer of IATSE Local 220 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was sentenced to six months’ incarceration after pleading guilty to embezzling $35,023 in union funds. He was also ordered to pay full restitution and serve three years of supervised relief.
In 2009, Stephen J. Pfeiffer, former secretary-treasurer of IATSE Local 60 in Pensacola, Florida, was sentenced to 13 months in federal prison and three years’ probation after pleading guilty to embezzling more than $12,000 in union funds. He was also ordered to pay $6,824 in restitution and a $100 special assessment.
That same year, Carl White, former treasurer of IATSE Local 251 in Madison, Wisconsin, was sentenced to a year in jail after pleading guilty to embezzling $85,969 in union funds. In addition to three years of supervised release, he was ordered to pay $96,088 in restitution, which included more than $10,000 in the cost of the government’s investigation. Once again, local IATSE officials discovered the theft after conducting an audit and notified the Justice Department.
Also that year, Teresa Cora Luna, a former bookkeeper and office manager of IATSE Local 504 in Anaheim, was sentenced to five months in prison for embezzling $67,416 in union funds from November 2004 to June 2005, when she was fired after local officials discovered the theft.
And in 2008, Darrell Pendergrass, former president of IATSE Local 699 in Tennessee was sentenced to one year in prison and three years’ probation after pleading guilty to embezzling $70,336 in union funds. He was also order to make full restitution. Like his, all of these cases were investigated by the Office of Labor-Management Standards and summarized by the non-profit National Legal and Policy Center.
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