- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Former Washington Teachers Union President Barbara A. Bullock faces 10 years in prison after pleading guilty in U.S. District Court to charges she helped siphon off $2.5 million from the union treasury to spend on personal luxury items.

According to a plea agreement released yesterday, prosecutors will seek a prison sentence of between nine and 10 years and $500,000 restitution in exchange for guilty pleas on counts of mail fraud and conspiracy to embezzle from a labor union.

“We’re satisfied that the agreement and the exposure reflects the conduct,” said U.S. Attorney for the District Roscoe C. Howard.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Richard J. Leon will deliver the sentence Jan. 16. He is not obligated to abide by the plea agreement, and Miss Bullock cannot withdraw her plea should he hand down a more severe sentence. Miss Bullock remains free until sentencing.

Miss Bullock’s attorney, Stephen Spivack, declined comment on the plea agreement.

Miss Bullock appeared in court yesterday wearing a black sweater and slacks, with no makeup or jewelry. She gave short answers to a number of the judge’s questions asking if she understood the nature of the charges and the plea agreement.

Miss Bullock read along as prosecutors summarized the evidence against her from a written statement, leaning her forehead on her hand and obstructing her face from public view.

Afterward, the judge asked her if the prosecutor’s statements were accurate.

“I agree to what I did as being accurate,” she said, adding that she could not verify the accuracy of the evidence involving her former executive assistant, Gwendolyn M. Hemphill, and former union Treasurer James O. Baxter.

Mrs. Hemphill and Mr. Baxter were not identified by name in documents filed in Miss Bullock’s case and have not yet been formally charged.

Mr. Howard would not comment on the status of the cases against Mrs. Hemphill and Mr. Baxter. “While today’s guilty plea, we believe, is a significant development in this investigation, just so you know, it’s far from over,” Mr. Howard said. He said a decision on whether Miss Bullock could potentially be called to testify in criminal cases against the pair was “way off in the future.”

Prosecutors said Miss Bullock, Mrs. Hemphill and Mr. Baxter had stolen union funds from 1995 until last year, when they resigned their positions.

With her guilty plea, Miss Bullock acknowledges writing hundreds of thousands of dollars in checks out of a union account to third parties, who then laundered the money and shared the proceeds with her. Miss Bullock also acknowledges falsifying Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Department of Labor reports to conceal the thefts.

Along with tens of thousands of dollars in artwork, electronic equipment and wigs, the union officials spent more than $500,000 on custom-made clothing, $57,000 for a sterling silver flatware set, $100,000 for Washington Redskins and Washington Wizards season tickets, $4,690 for limousine service to and from FedEx Field in Landover, $50,000 in personal catering charges, and $40,000 in personal dental expenses.

As part of the agreement, Miss Bullock relinquishes all items seized by investigators during a raid in December. Mr. Howard said the items are likely to be auctioned.

Speaking outside the courthouse after the hearing, U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao said Miss Bullock’s actions were an “affront to the vast majority of union leaders, who are hard-working, decent and dedicated to their members.”

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has since taken over the WTU, and also is suing Miss Bullock, Mrs. Hemphill, Mr. Baxter and five other defendants, seeking restitution.

In a statement, the AFT called Miss Bullock’s plea “an important step forward in bringing to justice the individuals responsible for the outrageous theft from” the WTU.

Two lesser figures — Michael Wayne Martin and Leroy Holmes — pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder money and are said to be cooperating with authorities. A third figure, D.C. Department of Health employee Errol Alderman, was charged last week with conspiracy.

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