FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – Former Broward Teachers Union president Pat Santeramo was released from jail shortly after 4 p.m. Friday following a late Thursday night decision from a Broward County judge.
As Santeramo was leaving jail, CBS4 asked for a comment, but the former BTU president didn’t say a word.
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 premium came from a legitimate source.
During Thursday’s Nebbia 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,” said Webb.
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 said, 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.
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.
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.
According to the Broward State Attorney’s Office, after his election as president of the BTU in November 2001, Santeramo “began using the BTU 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 a 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 say 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 SAO 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 SAO.
According to the SAO, Santeramo also improperly collected more than $121, 848 in false sick and vacation time.
A BTU 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 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
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 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.