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JULY 10, 2012
Broward’s 11,000-member teacher’s union longtime president, Pat Santeramo, after a nine-month investigation, has been arrested on several criminal charges.
Pat Santeramo, 64, turned himself into the Broward County Main Jail at 8:30 a.m. to face 20 charges, including 19 felonies, according to the Broward State Attorney's Office.
Santeramo, a former teacher himself who for 10 years led the large and influential union, faces a list of criminal charges that include racketeering, grand theft, campaign contribution violations, and money laundering.
Prosecutors say Santeramo used union funds as his own personal bank, arranging kickbacks with a union-hired maintenance contractor, fraudulently obtaining $121,848 in sick and vacation time he was not entitled to, and charging union credit cards for his own personal expenses.
Santeramo, according to a 33-page arrest warrant, also engineered a string of illegal campaign contributions that involved the (BTU), Broward Teacher’s Union members writing checks to candidates and then being reimbursed with union funds. Candidates receiving the checks included former U.S. presidential candidate Hilary Clinton and Florida gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink.
According to the Miami Herald, Santeramo’s kickback scheme included multiple contracts awarded to Coral Springs-based Marstan Construction for services such as ant extermination and light bulb replacement at the union’s headquarters building.
Santeramo repeatedly billed the union for these expenses a pattern that Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti described as obviously suspicious.
“Teachers trust their union to take care of them. But this investigation, which started last October, has confirmed that the head of the Broward Teachers Union used his position to take care of himself only," Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti said.
“I didn’t think anybody could be infected with that many ants,” Lamberti said. Santeramo’s kickbacks, Lamberti said, “would be comical if they weren’t so criminal.”
The head of Marstan Construction, David Esposito, has been granted immunity from criminal charges in the Santeramo case, in exchange for cooperating with prosecutors.
The charges against Santeramo include racketeering, 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.
According to the Broward State Attorney's Office, Santeramo began defrauding the union after he was elected president in November 2001.
According to Florida authorities, Santeramo approached Broward Teachers Union colleagues beginning in 2007 asking them and their family members to contribute to Clinton’s campaign and that of then-Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink.
“Fraudulent reimbursements were used to conceal and launder these contributions by disguising them in the BTU books and records using false account classification designations such as: ‘miscellaneous expense, building expense, organizing, staff training, new education program, office supplies, lobbying, communications, negotiation and bargaining, other committees, steward training and special events,’” according to the criminal complaint against Santeramo.
Authorities charge that 26 individuals were involved in the scheme, which also involved contributions to the 2010 campaign of Broward County School Board member Nora Rupert.
Santeramo also allegedly used BTU’s operating account to reimburse members for contributions to the union’s political action committee, effectively concealing political donations as business expenses. “The total amounts of these political contributions were sent to the national American Federation of Teachers union”, according to the indictment.
"Santeramo, while using his 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," an arrest affidavit said.
Santeramo was able to divert around $165,500 in union funds to himself through an invoice-kickback scheme with a construction company, the State Attorney's Office said.
According to the State Attorney's Office, Santeramo made a series of illegal campaign contributions by having 25 people, including Broward Teacher’s Union members; make donations to a variety of candidates who he then reimbursed with Broward Teacher’s Union funds.
Tuesday’s criminal charges follow months of turmoil at the union, beginning last August when a small contingent of the union’s 27-member executive board pressed the Florida Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers to look into its finances.
Santeramo is also accused of making a series of illegal campaign contributions by having 25 individuals, including Broward Teacher’s Union officials, make donations to a variety of candidates for which he then reimbursed them with Broward Teacher’s Union funds. Several of them have pleaded no contest to misdemeanor campaign finance violations and adjudication was withheld, but Tarka — who appeared with law enforcement at a Tuesday’s news conference — wouldn’t say whether they will be suspended or removed. They are Ronney Virgillito, George Segna, Lynn Cavall, Bernette Schultz and Leonard Lee.
Robert Sutton, a high school math teacher who is also campaigning for a county commission seat, said allowing those convicted BTU members to stay on board only serves to preserve the “cloud of corruption” surrounding the union.
“They’re supposed to be representing us, negotiating for us, and they come into the negotiations with zero credibility because they have criminal charges behind them,” Sutton said.
Bond for Santeramo was set at $480,000. He has significant assets including a vacation home in posh Martin County that he bought in 2007 for $574,000, Lamberti said. But to post bond, Santeramo will have to prove he has assets that are unconnected to his alleged criminal activity.
The vacation home, Lamberti said, was an example of how Santeramo financed an extravagant lifestyle by stealing from the teachers he was supposed to represent. Santeramo bought the house with a $274,000 down payment, Lamberti said, then paid off the 30-year mortgage in only three years.
July 13, 2012
Former Broward Teachers Union president Pat Santeramo was released from jail shortly after 4 p.m. Friday following a Thursday night decision from a Broward County judge.
Santeramo’s bond was set Wednesday at $480,000, but was not allowed to be released from jail until his attorney Ben Kuehne showed that any money or collateral put up for the bond, came from a legitimate source.
During Thursday’s hearing, Santeramo’s wife Lynne Webb testified, that the couple has for years held more than a half-million dollars in savings account CDs.
“We’ve used our combined income which averaged over 250-thousand dollars every year, to save money and pay down our debts and saved very aggressively,” Webb testified.
She also testified that the sizable savings grew even as the couple paid a $274,000 down payment on a Martin County vacation home in 2007, and then paid off the remaining $300,000 mortgage in just three years.
“We had a very aggressive savings plan,” Webb testified, telling the court that the pair’s combined $250,000-plus income enabled them to both pay routine bills while socking plenty of money away.
Lynne Webb earns $89,000 a year as president of the teacher’s union in Pasco County.
Prosecutors argued that it was Santeramo’s illegal activities that swelled his savings accounts: He is accused of stealing roughly $300,000 from the teachers union during the past five years. The source of the couple’s nest egg was critical, as money derived from illegal activity cannot be used to finance Santeramo’s bond.
Should various bank accounts have been disqualified, Santeramo might have encountered difficulty financing his release.
According to the Broward State Attorney’s Office, after his election as president of the BTU in November 2001, Santeramo “began using the Broward Teacher’s Union as his artifice to organize his scheme to defraud the union and its members.”
“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,” the arrest affidavit said.
Santeramo has denied any wrongdoing.
He issued this statement saying, “Having spent a lifetime of dedication to the public school students and teachers of Broward County, I’m disappointed by the criminal charges. At no time have I acted dishonestly or in violation of my sacred trust to the teachers of Broward County. Unfortunately in today’s troubling political times, the righteous cause of organized labor is under assault.”
Prosecutors said that’s a distortion of the facts.
According to the SAO, from 2001 to 2012, Santeramo “was able to systematically divert approximately $165,500 in union funds to himself through an invoice-kickback scheme with a construction company.”
The Broward State Attorney's Office said in one of the 43 instances of racketeering discovered by their investigation; Santeramo had the construction company bill the union $89,295 for repairing the building’s elevators.
The company then gave $20,000 of the union’s payment back to Santeramo in cash, according to the Broward State Attorney's Office.
According to the Broward State Attorney's Office, Santeramo also improperly collected more than $121, 848 in false sick and vacation time.
A Broward Teacher’s Union audit found that under Santeramo’s leadership, the union spent nearly $4 million in reserve fund over multiple years on political campaigns, rallies, and other areas. Additionally, the Broward Teacher’s Union (BTU) didn’t pass along increases in state and national union dues to members.
The state attorney’s office also said Santeramo made a series of illegal campaign contributions by having 25 people, including union members, make donations to a variety of candidate and then would reimburse the people form union funds for their contribution.
Santeramo’s lawyer, Ben Kuehne, said Santeramo is not guilty of the charges and that the charges are part of a bigger battle against labor.
Based on the charges, Santeramo faces up to life in prison for the crimes if he is convicted.
JANUARY 21, 2016
A guilty verdict has been reached in the trial of former Broward Teachers Union president Pat Santeramo
Documents show Santeramo allegedly steered BTU funds to the political campaigns of both
Hillary Clinton and Alex Sink.
Former Broward Teachers Union President Pat Santeramo was convicted Wednesday of multiple corruption charges.
The state trial began last October. Prosecutors emphasized the more than $165,000 in illegal kickbacks that Pat Santeramo allegedly had received from a Coral Springs, Fla. contractor, Marstan Construction.
During 2006-11, Marstan chief David Esposito had sent the union inflated invoices for building maintenance services such as plumbing repairs, light bulb changes and ant extermination. Once paid, Esposito, not wanting to leave a paper trail, rewarded Santeramo with cash payments ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000.
Then-Broward County Sheriff Al Lamberti said of Santeramo several years ago: “With every bill, there was something tacked on for him.”
During testimony, Assistant State Attorney David Schulson introduced numerous invoices as evidence.
But the allegations went further. Santeramo had forged union documents to collect more than $120,000 in phony sick and vacation time reimbursements. And after examining his union credit card records, prosecutors concluded that a large portion of the $128,634 in charges during the 2009-11 period lacked documentation and may have been for personal items.
Santeramo also was an aspiring, and unscrupulous, power broker in Florida politics. According to prosecutors, he reimbursed union employees who donated money to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential primary campaign in that state.
He did likewise in 2010 for Alex Sink’s campaign for governor and Nora Rupert’s campaign for the Broward County School Board. On January 20, the jury came back with its verdict: guilty on eight of nine charges. As consolation, Santeramo was found not guilty of misusing his union-issued gasoline credit card.
Assistant State Attorney David Schulson introduced more than 30 invoices during the eight days of testimony. In court Tuesday, he focused on a few of them, including work done on the two-story building's elevator in 2008.
Advanced Elevators, a repair company, submitted a $24,000 bid for the project. Advanced Elevators did the work, but the billing went through Marstan Construction, the primary general contractor for the union. Marstan's owner, David Esposito, testified that he inflated the cost to $44,000, paid the promised amount to Advanced Elevator, and split the remaining proceeds with Santeramo.
"This was an easy opportunity to steal thousands of dollars at a time," said Schulson. "It was money that had been delivered to the union by thousands of hardworking teachers."
The jury took eight hours over two days to reach its decision.
Meanwhile, a federal case was proceeding. Filed last August following a probe by the Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General, prosecutors concluded that Santeramo during 2006-11 had diverted $93,800 from the union courtesy of the Broward County School District’s Accountability Program, keeping $34,500 for himself and distributing another $59,300 to three unnamed BTU employees; the government did not allege the trio was aware that the payments were unauthorized.
The district long had provided $80,000 annually to the union to defray the costs of Accountability Program training, teacher release time, guest speakers and other education-related activities. The collective bargaining agreement called for the union to keep written records of all program expenses and to make this information available to the school board. Apparently, it did not.
Convicted in the state case this January, the prospects in the federal case looked no better.
A conviction on either of the two federal charges could mean up to 20 years in prison. Recognizing a dead end, Santeramo pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud on February 12.
Santeramo’s lawyer, Benedict Kuehne, is undecided as to whether to appeal the state verdict.
“We are exploring our legal options,” Kuehne said. The prosecution doesn’t think there is much to explore.
State of Florida attorney David Schulson put it this way:
“He (Pat Santeramo) was the gatekeeper of a multimillion-dollar budget from the dues of the Broward teachers, and that money was going nowhere without him knowing exactly where it was going.”
As for Pat Santeramo, he has a more immediate problem: He is scheduled for sentencing in the federal case on April 22.
APRIL 15, 2016
Judge says sentencing of former Broward union chief will send message to others tempted by corruption
Santeramo, who had asked Broward Circuit Judge Jeffrey R. Levenson for leniency, faced a maximum penalty of 55 years after he was convicted in January of money laundering, organized scheme to defraud and violating campaign contribution laws.
"I ask you when making your final decision to consider the good that I have done throughout my life and not just this snapshot in time," Pat Santeramo said.
But prosecutor David Schulson said "Santeramo made the choice to steal from BTU funds," Schulson said, citing trial evidence that the union head received 30 payments from 2006 until 2011 from general contractor David Esposito, who testified against Santeramo in exchange for immunity. "It is clear based on the evidence that not a single dollar of BTU funds would have been stolen without the knowledge and participation of Pat Santeramo."
"It confounds the court and I must ask why," Judge Levenson said. "Why over these years did you abuse the trust of the union that you were so devoted to and that you so loved?"
Schulson asked Levenson to sentence Santeramo to a 10-year term;
Levenson decided on half that.
Pat Santeramo was sentenced to 60 months in state prison and another 60 months probation.
As a condition of his probation, Santeramo was ordered to pay restitution of $163,500 to two insurance companies.
"Hopefully this will be a note for those who are in those positions of trust to take those positions of trust seriously" Judge Levenson said.
After his conviction on the state charges, Santeramo plead guilty to related federal mail fraud charges and is to be sentenced in federal court next week.
Santeramo will remain free until his federal sentencing. Afterward, he is expected to surrender to begin his prison term.
APRIL 22, 2016
A federal judge rejected part of former Broward Teachers Union President Pat Santeramo's plea agreement with prosecutors Friday and sentenced him to serve an additional 18 months in federal prison after he serves a five-year state prison term.
Under the terms of his plea agreement, Santeramo was expecting to serve a maximum of five years for the state and federal offenses at the same time in state prison.
But U.S. District Judge William Zloch, who had warned he was not bound to follow the terms of the plea agreement between the prosecution and defense when Santeramo plead guilty to the federal mail fraud charge in February, imposed the additional punishment. The judge also fined him $4,000.
Santeramo surrendered early this afternoon in Broward Circuit Judge Jeffrey Levenson's courtroom and was taken into custody to begin serving the state prison sentence.
With time off for good behavior, he should serve about 85 percent of that. The judge agreed to recommend he should participate in a residential alcohol and substance abuse treatment program in prison that could further reduce his time behind bars.
The federal conviction could cost Santeramo his state pension, authorities said.
Santeramo wants people to remember his "many positive accomplishments" in the 30 years he worked as a music teacher and his 10 years leading the union, the lawyers said.
April 27, 2016
State officials confirmed this week they are investigating whether former Broward Teachers Union president Pat Santeramo should keep or forfeit his state pension of more than $3,500 per month.
Santeramo, 68 began serving a total of 6 and 1/2 years in prison Friday for state and federal convictions for mail fraud, money laundering, organized fraud and campaign contribution violations
Until then he will continue to receive a monthly payment of $3,559.72 from the State.
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