FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – Pat Santeramo, former Broward Teachers Union president, surrendered to Broward County authorities on multiple criminal charges related to his time with the BTU.
Santeramo resigned last year as the Broward State Attorney’s Office and the Florida Elections Commission were investigating illegal campaign contributions made with union money. Santeramo resigned in December, one day before he was to face an expulsion hearing from the union’s board.
Santeramo, 64, faces a total of 20 charges including: one count of racketeering, six counts of grand theft, five counts of campaign contributions violations, and several others.
“Teachers hold a special place in our community and when they’re disrespected by their leadership; that’s something we can’t tolerate,” said Broward County Sheriff Al Lamberti.
A financial audit of the BTU started the ball rolling toward Tuesday’s arrest.
The audit found, among other issues, 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 BTU didn’t pass along increases in state and national union dues to members.
- Click here to read more on the audit from CBS4’s Carey Codd
According to the Broward State Attorney’s Office, after Santeramo’s election as president of the BTU in November 2001; Santeramo “began using the BTU ans 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.
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.”
“We believe a majority of the money he stole from the union was used to buy a vacation home,” Sheriff Lamberti said.
The SAO said in one of the 43 instances of racketeering discovered by their investigation; Santeramo had the construction company bill the uinnon $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 SAO.
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.
According to the SAO, Santeramo also improperly collected more than $121, 848 in false sick and vacation time.
Santeramo’s lawyer, Benedict Kuehne, said Santeramo is not guilty of the charges and that the charges are part of a bigger battle against labor.
“All the charges basically deal with an issue,” said Kuehne. “Was Pat Santeramo honest in his dealings with the BTU? We believe, I believe Pat Santeramo believes the answer is a resounding yes. Pat Santeramo is an honest dedicated servant. Now, there’s a major battle against organized labor in America. Pat Santeramo may be yet another casualty in the effort to disband and dismantle organized labor.”
Based on the charges, Santeramo faces up to life in prison for the crimes if he is convicted.
The former BTU chief was granted a bond of $480,000.
The charges left a bad taste in the mouth of teachers who were once represented by Santeramo.
“It’s heartbreaking. We work every day. We haven’t had a raise in four years and we don’t have enough supplies,” said kindergarten teacher Donna Shubert. “It’s disgraceful. If the charges are true, I hope Mr. Santeramo has a long happy experience in jail.”
The Broward Teacher’s Union released a statement Tuesday afternoon that read in part:
“Today marks another important step in the Broward Teacher Union’s effort to move forward. Throughout this investigation, BTU has cooperated fully with the authorities and we will continue to do so…We at BTU continue to work diligently to correct, stabilize, and improve our union’s financial issues, restore confidence in our great union, and provide support for the outstanding work our members do every day for the students of Broward County.”