- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2020

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The former president of the union representing workers at the massive Smithfield Foods plant in eastern North Carolina pleaded guilty to helping embezzle more than $200,000 of the local’s money.

Keith Ludlum of Bladenboro pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy and embezzlement of labor union assets, U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon said in a news release. U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle said Ludlum faces a combined maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. He also could be fined up to $10,000 and ordered to pay restitution restitution.

Ludlum, who led more than 3,600 workers in eastern North Carolina, was elected president of Local 1208 in the United Food and Commercial Workers Union in 2011. The local covers North Carolina and South Carolina.

In April 2019, Ludlum was charged in an indictment that said he used the union debit card and checks steal union money dating from 2012 to 2015.

Ludlum and an unnamed person took a $5,478 trip to a resort in the Dominican Republic and a $469 trip to Sea World in Florida, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported. He also bought two Honda all-terrain vehicles worth $14,679, spent $436 on a semi-automatic weapon at Gander Mountain, paid $1,978 for personal car insurance and made numerous cash withdrawals, the indictment said.

Last year, former union Secretary-Treasurer Terry Slaughter pleaded guilty to federal embezzlement charges and agreed to repay $62,315.

The investigation began after the UFCW initiated an audit in 2014 because of complaints from union members regarding the theft and misuse of union funds by Ludlum and Slaughter.

The Bladen County slaughterhouse unionized in 2008 with a narrow vote to join the UFCW after a 15-year effort.

Ludlum’s attorney, Joshua Howard, told the newspaper that Ludlum would have no comment before sentencing this spring.

Smithfield says its Bladen County pork plant is the world’s largest, employing nearly 5,000 and processing more than 30,000 hogs a day.

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