- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday his troubled re-election campaign committee would return any money that was contributed improperly by the Washington Teachers' Union, which yesterday was taken over by its parent union, the American Federation of Teachers.
The impropriety of the donations, however, must be proved, the mayor said.
Mr. Williams' ties to former teachers union official Gwendolyn M. Hemphill raised a host of questions about the ethics of his re-election campaign workers and organization. The D.C. Office of Campaign Finances is investigating a fund-raiser hosted by the law firm of Curtis Lewis & Associates to determine whether it was financed by the teachers union and improperly reported by the campaign.
"I've attended hundreds of fund-raisers. … Normally the costs are paid by the hosts or the campaign," Mr. Williams said at his weekly press briefing yesterday. "If it is true that the teachers union paid for the fund-raiser, my campaign will return the money."
The Office of Campaign Finance already is looking into suspected unreported in-kind contributions from the use of phone banks provided by the teachers union.
The union contracted Mr. Lewis' firm in 2000. That agreement was central to a lawsuit filed by the former director of the District Office on Human Rights, Charles F. Holman III, who claimed he was fired for refusing to endorse a contract that hadn't gone through the required bidding process. Mr. Holman said Mr. Lewis' contract was improperly steered through his office at the insistence of former union President Barbara A. Bullock.
Mr. Williams said specific instructions were given to hundreds of people who sponsored fund-raisers on how to account for them properly. He said a few might have made errors, which would be "unfortunate and unacceptable."
Mrs. Hemphill, who has held several posts in the past year assistant to Miss Bullock, executive director and at-large committee member of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, and co-chairman of the mayor's re-election campaign is at the center of an investigation into fraud, tax evasion and the embezzlement of more than $5 million from the union over an eight-year period, along with Miss Bullock and the union's suspended treasurer, James O. Baxter II, who is the brother of Mr. Lewis.
An independent audit of the Washington Teachers Union released last Thursday by its parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers, revealed that $5 million had been misappropriated, exceeding an earlier estimate of $2 million.
The mayor yesterday again denied any knowledge or involvement in the activities of the three union officials.
"I go to sleep at night knowing that I didn't do anything wrong," Mr. Williams said.
He said the campaign was "inventorying all contacts and contributions and, if necessary, will return any funds." But he also said his campaign accounts are empty.
Meanwhile, the executive council of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) voted unanimously yesterday to take over the local union. The AFT immediately appointed George C. Springer, former head of the Connecticut Federation of Educational and Professional Employees and most recently the Northeast Regional Director for the AFT, as administrator to run the day-to-day operations of the local union. The appointment is effective immediately.
"The unprecedented injustice that has been perpetrated against WTU members can only be addressed by the strongest of measures the kind of action we have taken today," AFT President Sandra Feldman said in a statement.
"Putting an administrator in to run the daily operations of the WTU will ensure that the local will have the strong leadership and support needed to overcome the burden inflicted on the union by a few individuals, and to enable the members to attend confidently to their work of educating children."
However, the takeover may be short-lived. WUSA-TV Channel 9 reported Tuesday that U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan was considering the appointment of a receiver. Judge Sullivan is presiding over the civil case filed by District teacher Nathan A. Saunders, in which the local and national teachers union leadership are named as defendants. The lawsuit seeks the appointment of an independent receiver.
The AFT filed suit in U.S. District Court last week against Miss Bullock, Mr. Baxter and Mrs. Hemphill.
The AFT lawsuit claimed that the three, along with five associates, conspired to embezzle and convert union funds.
The lawsuit says an audit identified more than $1.8 million in unauthorized personal charges that Miss Bullock made to the union's corporate American Express card since 1995, in addition to several cash deposits from converted union checks.
Mrs. Hemphill's unauthorized personal American Express charges exceeded $311,000, and she wrote another unauthorized $181,000 in union checks, the lawsuit said. Mr. Baxter's unauthorized personal American Express charges exceeded $267,000, and he wrote himself $270,000 in unauthorized union checks, the lawsuit says.


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