- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2003

D.C. teachers say city politicians should give the Washington Teachers Union (WTU) the campaign contributions they received from former union officials accused of stealing nearly $5 million in WTU dues.

“I’ve certainly heard comments from members that perhaps these contributions should be returned,” said union spokesman Terence Cooper.

City politicians have accepted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions over the past few years from individuals who have pleaded guilty or who are charged in the union embezzlement scandal, according to D.C. Office of Campaign Finance records.

Former union President Barbara A. Bullock and her former assistant, Gwendolyn M. Hemphill, 62, have donated thousands of dollars to local politicians, records show.

Bullock, 66, who pleaded guilty last month to mail fraud and conspiracy to embezzle, has given at least $4,750 since 2000 to city politicians — including $2,000 to Mayor Anthony A. Williams. She faces up to 10 years in prison and $500,000 in restitution when she is sentenced Jan. 16.

Mrs. Hemphill, the mayor’s former re-election campaign co-chairman, and her husband, Lawrence, have donated at least $6,100 to D.C. politicians — including D.C. Council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat, and former council member Charlene Drew Jarvis, Ward 4 Democrat — from 1998 through 2002, the height of the embezzlement scandal.

Though the campaign contributions were made as personal donations, many teachers say those funds likely came from stolen union dues and city politicians should part with the money.

“The money is tainted,” said Nathan Saunders, a history teacher at Anacostia High School in Southeast. “Returning those contributions would show leadership and good-faith judgements that the public needs to see right now.

“It would also be helpful to teachers in that it would possibly yield small amounts of money in the form of restitution,” said Mr. Saunders, who has filed a lawsuit against the 5,000-member WTU and its parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, saying they failed to properly oversee union funds.

Other teachers say the money should be given to charity if campaign-finance laws do not permit candidates to return money to the WTU’s general fund.

“I don’t know if they could give it to the schools or to the union or [to charity],” said Erich Martel, a history teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School. “I think that would be a very minimal thing to do.”

In January, Mr. Williams said that he was unaware of any illicit activity by Bullock or Mrs. Hemphill and that he would return to the union any tainted campaign donations.

However, campaign-finance reports do not show any payments from his or any other political campaigns to the teachers union in the past three years. The reports show that Mr. Williams’ campaign fund paid Mrs. Hemphill more than $1,200 for reimbursements in June and July 2002, and paid Mr. Hemphill $900 for refreshments in September 2002.

Earlier this year, the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance announced that officials were investigating whether Mr. Williams’ campaign had fully reported contributions from the WTU.

The WTU was faulted over political contributions under Bullock in an audit of the union by the AFT, which found that the WTU gave $2,000 to New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign and $9,000 to the Democratic National Committee. Both contributions were returned.

“The WTU may have co-mingled dues and political fund-raising activities,” Mr. Saunders said. “That needs to be audited and corrected.”

Federal prosecutors say eight former WTU leaders and workers stole millions in union funds from 1996 through 2002.

The embezzlement investigation continues, even after the indictment last week of Mrs. Hemphill, former union Treasurer James O. Baxter II and two union accountants, authorities said.

Federal officials were unavailable for comment, but U.S. Attorney Roscoe Howard said the investigation into links between the WTU and D.C. politics continues.

“I don’t think the fact that we haven’t done anything yet means anything other than we’re still investigating it,” Mr. Howard said during a recent WAMU-FM (88.5) interview. “It is an open investigation, and we’re taking a look at it.”

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