Friday, January 30, 2004

Barbara A. Bullock, former president of the Washington Teachers Union, was sentenced yesterday to nine years and two months in prison for her role in embezzling more than $2.5 million in union funds.

Bullock, the only one of three former union leaders involved in the embezzlement scandal to confess, pleaded guilty in federal court Oct. 7 to charges of mail fraud and conspiracy to embezzle from a labor union.

Bullock, 65, dressed in a brown shirt, matching pants and a tan overcoat, briefly addressed the teachers and union members present, apologizing for her actions.

“I stand before you a broken and changed person,” she said. “When I think about what happened, I would change things.”

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon ordered Bullock to spend three months in a halfway house upon her release from prison and to perform 3,000 hours of community service. Bullock will not be eligible for parole.

“You so abused the trust you were given,” Judge Leon told Bullock in sentencing her yesterday.

Bullock also must pay $4.6 million to the union and turn over luxury items — including artwork, fur coats and electronics — purchased with the stolen union funds.

Defense attorneys had argued that the judge should have been more lenient with Bullock because of her age and illness — she suffers from a bipolar disorder.

“This is a sick person, your honor,” said Bullock’s attorney, Stephen R. Spivack. He said Bullock had an obsession with shopping and didn’t even use many of the items she purchased with the stolen funds.

Prosecutors charged that the money was taken from 1995 to 2002. Bullock became president of the teachers union in 1994.

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

Her former chauffeur, Leroy Holmes, pleaded guilty last February to conspiring to defraud the union.

An FBI affidavit filed in the case implicated Bullock, Holmes, Bullock’s former executive assistant Gwendolyn Hemphill, former union treasurer James O. Baxter II, Bullock’s sister Gwendolyn B. Clark and three others.

On Nov. 20, an indictment from a federal grand jury charged Mrs. Hemphill, 62, and Mr. Baxter, 49, with conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and making false statements to federal officials.

The indictment also named James A. Goosby, 54, a tax preparer from Upper Marlboro, and Robin J. Klein, 51, a certified public accountant from Rockville, who were charged with helping conceal the theft by falsifying financial records.

If convicted, Mrs. Hemphill and Mr. Baxter each face more than 19 years in prison. Mr. Goosby and Klein face up five years in prison each, if convicted.

Bullock, who had remained free until her sentencing yesterday, reached a plea agreement with prosecutors to ask the judge for a lesser sentence in exchange for her cooperation in the investigation.

As part of the plea agreement, Bullock relinquished all items seized by investigators during a raid in December 2002. Mr. Howard said the items are likely to be auctioned.

Bullock reported to the Bureau of Prisons after her sentencing, and will be given a date to surrender and begin serving her sentence.

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