- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 23, 2004

The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the D.C. inspector general are investigating the president and former treasurer of the union that represents workers at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast, officials said yesterday.

Between $16,000 and $20,000 is missing from the union’s bank account, and the union officers are suspected of embezzling or misappropriating the funds, said members of Local 2095 of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, which represents about 700 workers at St. Elizabeths at 700 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.

President Willie E. Smith and former union Treasurer Christopher Leach are the targets of the joint investigation by federal prosecutors and the inspector general, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said yesterday..

Contacted by phone yesterday at his home in Southeast, Mr. Leach said neither he nor Mr. Smith had mishandled the union’s money, which includes about $18,200 in members dues paid each month.

“That’s a false accusation,” Mr. Leach said. “We have done nothing wrong. This is a union issue.”

Mr. Smith, who works as a psychiatric technician at the hospital’s ward for the criminally insane, declined to comment on the investigation or the missing funds when contacted by telephone.

The inspector general issued a subpoena on Nov. 24 that ordered the union officers to produce “all financial records, documents, files, correspondence, and reports … [including] signature cards, monthly statements, deposit and withdrawal slips and copies of canceled checks” from the union bank account for the period of Jan. 1, 2002, to Nov. 13, 2003.

Mr. Smith assumed the presidency in 2002 and continues to hold the top post of Local 2095, an affiliate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Mr. Leach resigned as treasurer last year shortly after the inspector general subpoenaed the bank records.

Among the evidence being scrutinized by investigators are canceled checks from the union’s account at Provident Bank, including five checks made out to Mr. Smith and Mr. Leach in December 2002 that totaled $1,360.

The Washington Times has obtained copies of those canceled checks and other financial documents that also might be in the hands of investigators.

A check dated Dec. 10, 2003, for $3,319.52 was made out to Mr. Smith and signed by Mr. Smith and Mr. Leach. Union sources said the check emptied the union account.

The subpoenaed documents were ordered to be delivered to the inspector general by Dec. 5. Early that month, the inspector general forwarded the case to the federal prosecutors, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Henry Nicholas, president of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, said the organization had initiated its own investigation of Local 2095. However, he said he was confident that the probe would find no evidence of embezzlement.

“The facts do not support it,” he said. “The problem is there is factionalism going on, an internal turf war about who should run the union.”

A trial board convened by the national office on Jan. 17 could not substantiate the embezzlement charges brought by members of Local 2095. But the board’s interim ruling stated that “the trial board is extremely concerned about the allegations of financial malfeasance … as well as the evidence of a total breakdown of democratic governance.”

St. Elizabeths Hospital, the nation’s first and only federal mental hospital and home to such infamous patients such as John Hinckley Jr., who attempted to assassinate President Reagan, has been operated by the D.C. government since 1987.

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