- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2006

Former Washington Teachers Union office manager Gwendolyn M. Hemphill yesterday received an 11-year prison sentence for her role in an embezzlement scheme to bilk millions of dollars of dues from D.C. public school teachers.

Hemphill, 64, apologized in a brief statement to U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon, saying she was “deeply sorry.”

She said she engaged in fraud because she sought approval from former union President Barbara Bullock, whom she said she viewed as a “mother figure.”

Judge Leon told Hemphill that her criminal conduct was “reprehensible.” But he stopped short of giving her the 20-year prison sentence sought by prosecutors. He said 20 years “is so much greater than necessary.”

Judge Leon also ordered Hemphill, who served as co-chairman of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ 2002 re-election campaign, to pay $4.2 million in restitution and to report to prison by July 22.

Hemphill attorney Nancy Luque said she plans to appeal the sentence.

At the sentencing hearing yesterday, prosecutors dismissed defense arguments that mental illness should keep Hemphill out of prison.

Earlier this year, pleadings in the case filed by prosecutors indicated that Hemphill had told a psychiatrist that she has episodes during which she is confronted by “a small, dark-skinned person with a thin Roman nose, small lips and a spear, who is dressed like a native African.”

“This person and her multiple personalities and her African warrior are all single-mindedly focused on avoiding responsibility in getting away with this,” Assistant U.S. Attorney James W. Cooper argued yesterday, referring to Hemphill.

“She couldn’t even keep her lies straight,” he said, referring to Hemphill’s statements to psychiatrists.

Miss Luque, who sought to seal court records about Hemphill’s mental status, placed most of the blame for the union scandal on Bullock yesterday.

“She chose Mrs. Hemphill for one reason, because she could manipulate her,” Miss Luque argued.

On. Aug. 31, Hemphill and former union Treasurer James O. Baxter each were convicted of 23 counts that included embezzlement, money laundering, conspiracy and wire fraud. A third trial defendant, James Goosby, who provided accounting services for the union during late 2001 and part of 2002, was acquitted.

Union dues were used to pay for designer clothing and fur coats, silverware and a champagne cooler, antiques and art, wigs, plasma televisions, dental implants, $77,181 worth of tickets to basketball games and Louis Vuitton and Chanel handbags.

However, Miss Luque said most of the money was spent on Bullock, while Hemphill got a television, “a ratty dress” and some dental work. She also said Hemphill had cooperated with federal investigators.

Miss Luque said Hemphill was “the perfect patsy for Bullock,” a woman she said nobody at the union or its parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers, challenged.

“Mrs. Hemphill did what she was told to do,” Miss Luque said.

However, Mr. Cooper argued that Hemphill played a lead role in organizing the fraud, which plunged the union into debt and scandal from which it still is trying to emerge.

Judge Leon said Bullock was the “greediest” of the defendants, but rejected the notion that Hemphill played a limited role.

He cited union checks signed off by Hemphill to union chauffeur Leroy Holmes, who would funnel money back to Hemphill and others.

“The greed you facilitated was nothing short of breathtaking,” the judge told Hemphill.

Miss Luque declined to comment on the case and said yesterday that Hemphill would not speak about the sentence.

Miss Luque said she will file court papers to keep Hemphill free on bond pending the appeal. But Judge Leon said he is unlikely to grant such a request.

The issue of where Hemphill will serve her prison sentence remained unresolved yesterday.

Judge Leon and Miss Luque had discussed the Alderson federal prison in West Virginia, where many first-time offenders and white-collar criminals are incarcerated. Alderson is a minimum-security facility that houses female offenders.

However, Mr. Cooper said that’s where Bullock is serving her sentence. And having Hemphill and Bullock in the same prison could be “awkward,” the judge said.

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