- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2003

Gone were the Ferragamo pumps, the St. Johns suits, the flashy designer jewelry. Gone, too, were the long, fake nails and the curly mile-high wig. It was too warm for the Rosendorf-Evans mink coat, but that is gone as well.

Most of all, gone is the flamboyant former Washington Teachers Union President Barbara A. Bullock, who stood as a drastically stripped-down version of her once proud-as-a-peacock self, when she pleaded guilty to “blatant greed” and fraud this week in U.S. District Court.

Wearing a black sweater set, black slacks and black loafers, Bullock was barely audible as she admitted her large part in a spending spree with more than $2.5 million taken from union coffers during the seven years she ran the prominent local organization.

The wig for her day in court was a sleek, red pageboy.

This was not the Barbara Bullock I’d come to know. Gone was the political, media-savvy woman who never missed a chance to grab yours truly to gab about this or that issue, especially if it would advance her cause for teachers. No, this Bullock would barely look at me, let alone answer my calls, as I chased her amid a horde of cameras on Constitution Avenue NW on Tuesday.

All I really wanted to ask was, “Why?”

Why did she think she could get away with using WTU funds like her own personal bank to buy a bunch of stupid stuff, including $57,000 in sterling silver flatware that she can’t hardly use where she’s going at 66 years of age?

What is the most difficult to understand is how a woman who dedicated her career and invested considerable political capital — which increased immensely after delivering votes for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams — to benefit beleaguered teachers could turn around and steal from her constituents, rob union funds and squander all. And for what? For $100,000 season tickets to the Washington Wizards’ and Redskins’ lousy games?

No question Bullock’s bullying tactics worked on local politicians to protect D.C. teachers and improve their lot. They did, after all, receive court-backed promises to get their raises. The hope here is for improved morale that translates into some classroom benefit for students. However, the most egregious example of Bullock’s avarice and “abominable behavior,” as U.S. Attorney for the District Roscoe Howard stated, is when the union insisted that the school system increase union dues from $16 to $160 for one month in the summer to cover delinquent national dues. Then, based on court testimony, they used some of the proceeds to pay Bullock and others more than $40,000 in bonuses.

Lots of lessons are to be gained for lots of onlookers, not the least of which is the consequences of living above one’s means, a longtime Washington affliction. Ensuring that someone is minding the goodies besides the fox wrapped in fur in the henhouse is another. Clearly, the American Federation of Teachers and D.C. teachers themselves can be held responsible for allowing Bullock and her cohorts to get away with highway robbery. AFT spokesman Alex Wohl said after Bullock’s hearing that the union awarded a grant to the WTU to cover the cost of reimbursing teachers for the $144 each of them had forked in the summer. He also gave assurances that new safeguards are being put in place so that such “outrageous” thievery cannot happen again.

The AFT has filed suit on behalf of its members to get restitution of the stolen funds. Lots of luck. Bullock, now unemployed, in ill health and headed to federal prison for 81/2 years, must pay a $500,000 fine to the government for her crimes.

No one knows how much the confiscated booty will bring at government auction, but someone is bound to come up short.

“Today’s plea agreement should allow that lawsuit to proceed on a speedier path, permit the union to continue on the road to recovery, and help ensure that Washington’s teachers can continue to focus on the education of children in their classrooms, rather than on proceedings against criminals in the courtroom,” Mr. Wohl said.

Want to bet? As Mr. Howard said, “This case is far from over.” Sources tell me there is strong disagreement on the facts of the case and the appropriate sanctions, and that this is holding up its complete dispensation. The biggest question remaining is how much, if any, of these embezzled funds made it into whose, if any, local campaign coffers?

With Bullock’s plea, the prickly issue being debated this week, and undoubtedly for months to come, is whether federal prosecutors came up short by accepting a plea bargain on two counts — one for mail fraud and one for conspiracy — for Bullock’s part in embezzling “more than $2.5 million.” Or, are these prosecutors, seeking glory or trying to set an example for other white-collar criminals, being too harsh by blowing up this pathetic embezzlement extravaganza in U.S. District Court, where the set-in-stone federal sentencing guidelines bind Magistrate Richard J. Leon to hand down a considerably lenient sentence for Bullock and others?

Mr. Howard said he was “satisfied that the agreement and the exposure reflects the conduct.” But I’ve been privy to more than one heated conversation in which some Washingtonians passionately argue that even though she was dead wrong and should be punished, Bullock should receive a lighter sentence. Some even urge that she be placed under house arrest and given community service as they’re aware of many drug offenders who get far less time.

I know what I think: A thief is a thief — but someone should ask the teachers.

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