- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

The U.S. Department of Labor yesterday said it has begun a new inquiry into financial reporting deficiencies at the 4,500-member Washington Teachers Union.

The Labor Department’s Washington field office opened the inquiry after federal regulators rejected the union’s fiscal 2005 report because of undisclosed shortcomings, officials said.

A Labor Department spokeswoman yesterday declined to elaborate on the deficiencies in regulatory filing, citing an active inquiry into the matter.

Spokeswoman Leni Fortson said the union’s financial report for 2005, due Sept. 28, was rejected because of “deficiencies.” She said regulators in the Washington field office have since opened up a “deficiency case” to “garner an acceptable report.” The Labor Department disclosed the inquiry yesterday in response to a request by The Washington Times earlier this week for the union’s 2005 financial information.

The disclosure comes weeks after the Labor Department sued the union in federal court in the District over election irregularities, and less than a year after the organization returned to local control following an embezzlement scandal.

The fiscal 2005 disclosure report due last year covers a time when the union was under the control of its parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The AFT ran the local union for two years after its president, Barbara A. Bullock, resigned in 2003 over a $5 million embezzlement scandal.

She is serving a nine-year prison sentence.

Troy Howard, a spokesman for the Washington Teachers Union, yesterday referred questions to the AFT.

A spokesman for the AFT yesterday said he was not familiar with details of the inquiry but that it was likely a case in which federal regulators were sending back financial forms for clarification.

“Sometimes these things get sent back,” said Alex Wohl, the AFT spokesman. “I would assume it is something fairly minor.”

Under the federal Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, unions each year must file a detailed financial report, including salary, assets and investment information.

According to its 2004 filing, the local union reported receipts from dues totaling just more than $3 million.

The inquiry does not appear to be related to a recent Labor Department investigation into voting irregularities at the union. That probe prompted federal regulators last month to file a federal lawsuit in the District to overturn election results.

Citing ineligible voting and a failure to mail ballots to all eligible voters, the Labor Department said in the lawsuit the union’s December 2004 and January 2005 elections should be voided.

The violations “may have affected the outcome of the defendant’s elections,” the Labor Department’s complaint states.

The AFT has called the problems “technical statutory violations” and defended its handling of the elections. The AFT said it conducted an “extensive effort” to encourage members to vote.

The union’s elections, held in December 2004 and January 2005, returned local control to the union after several officials resigned amid an embezzlement scandal.

Bullock pleaded guilty to conspiracy. Office manager Gwendolyn M. Hemphill and Treasurer James O. Baxter were convicted last summer and are awaiting sentencing.

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