Former Broward Teachers Union president Patrick Santeramo was charged Tuesday with 20 counts of racketeering, money laundering, grand theft, fraud and campaign contribution violations. He is being held in the county jail while he tries to get his $480,000 bail reduced.
Police and prosecutors revealed that outside of the campaign violations and mismanagement already reported, Santeramo also “allegedly told BTU’s 44 delegates to two Florida Education Association conventions that they should donate $50 to the association’s political action committee and then include the donation on an expense report; prosecutors say $2,200 in PAC contributions were reimbursed.” If that’s true, then it seems every single BTU delegate happily violated the law.
Additionally, Santeramo was receiving kickbacks from a contractor hired to work on the BTU building, spraying ants and changing light bulbs.
Santeramo’s attorney called the charges “inaccurate,” and said, “Unfortunately, in today’s troubling political times, the righteous cause of organized labor is under assault.”
All of the charges are body blows to BTU and the American Federation of Teachers, but the knockout punch was delivered by a single charge of grand theft against Santeramo for providing a forged document. What was that document? A March 8, 2000 memo Santeramo gave to AFT Administrator John Tarka and the BTU board as evidence Santeramo was entitled to more than $255,000 in unused sick leave and vacation time. Tarka reduced the payout by an amount he felt Santeramo still owed the union for insufficiently documented expenses and issued him a check for $174,538.70 as part of a last-minute deal to induce Santeramo to resign.
Evidently there were a number of BTU directors opposed to the payout, but they were overruled by Tarka. At the time I reported it this way:
To sum up, the new devotion to transparency resulted in a resignation deal negotiated behind closed doors without member input, a vow of no additional comment, a canceled hearing, some sort of payout, and an unexplained three-week extension of Santeramo’s tenure. The sound you hear is the AFT lid being slammed on the whole situation.
That wasn’t the end of it. In December Tarka issued a statement that he paid off Santeramo because contracts are ”sacred commitments.” I suggested “It would be ironic if the resignation deal ends up causing the public fallout it was meant to prevent.” Nevertheless, Tarka yesterday received kudos from Randi the Anguished, who is, of course, otherwise anguished by the situation.
I don’t believe unions house any more criminals than other businesses, non-profit organizations or government entities. But they have an unequaled tendency to try to control information when these unfortunate circumstances arise. AFT was so eager to get Santeramo out of the headlines that it handed the thief another $174,000 of members’ money.