Teaching Profession

D.C. Union Leader Admits To Bilking Funds

By Julie Blair — October 15, 2003 3 min read
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The former president of the Washington Teachers Union pleaded guilty last week to leading an embezzlement scam in which she helped steal more than $2.5 million from educators during her six years in office.

Barbara A. Bullock, 65, could face up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of $500,000 on charges of conspiracy and mail fraud. The punishment could be reduced, however, if she helps the government pursue her alleged co- conspirators.

Under the plea agreement, she is also protected from further criminal prosecution. Ms. Bullock, who resigned from her position with the District of Columbia union last fall, was the ringleader in an elaborate scheme spanning from January 1995 through September 2002, said U.S. Attorney Roscoe C. Howard.

She and her colleagues set up a fake company to launder union money, used union credit cards to pay for personal expenses, overcharged members to enrich themselves, and lied about expenses on official union documents, according to the federal prosecutor.

Among Ms. Bullock’s purchases with stolen money: $500,000 for custom-made clothing, $50,000 on fur coats, $100,000 for season tickets to the Washington Redskins football games and Washington Wizards basketball games, and $4,690 in limousine rides.

Her conduct “was nothing short of brazen greed, which amounted to the fleecing of the Washington Teachers’ Union,” Mr. Howard said.

To date, two others have pleaded guilty: Ms. Bullock’s former chauffeur, Leroy Holmes, and stylist Michael Martin. A third business partner in the fictitious company, Errol Alderman, has been charged. Ms. Bullock’s former assistant, Gwendolyn M. Hemphill, and the union’s former treasurer, James O. Baxter II, are being investigated.

Ms. Bullock’s lawyer, Stephen R. Spivack, asked U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon to consider scheduling the sentencing after the Christmas holidays, as “this may be the last holiday season she gets to be with her family.”

U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao used a press conference following the arraignment as a platform to draw attention to new federal accountability guidelines for unions, which would apply to the 5,000- member WTU.

‘Information Stopped Flowing’

Meanwhile, some teachers wondered whether the proposed maximum sentence was harsh enough. “I am very outraged,” said Booker Brooks, a retired teacher, who ran for the WTU presidency in the late 1960s. “I’d have given her 19 years.”

Ms. Bullock’s scheme was the second unearthed by authorities in the past year involving an American Federation of Teachers affiliate. Pat L. Tornillo, the former head of the United Teachers of Dade in Miami-Dade County, pleaded guilty in August to conspiring to embezzle $650,000 from the 14,500-member union. He may receive up to five years in prison, though prosecutors recommended that he be sentenced to only 24 months. (“Miami Union Leader Pleads Guilty to Fraud,” Sept. 3, 2003.)

UTD is also affiliated with the National Education Association.

Teachers in the nation’s capital say Ms. Bullock’s scheme went unnoticed for years because the union leader discouraged participation in union life. They paint a portrait of a president who purposely quelled communication and disliked questions, actions which so frustrated members that many eventually quit seeking involvement.

“The information stopped flowing to teachers,” said Elizabeth A. Davis, who teaches technology education at John Philip Sousa Middle School. “This disengaged members.”

For example, Ms. Bullock replaced the union’s in-house newspaper with a newsletter from her office over members’ protests, Ms. Davis said. She also routinely had her staff unplug members’ microphones at union meetings in order to curtail their statements, the teacher said.

“If teachers had questions and concerns about things, she didn’t want to deal with them,” added Laureen Smith-Butler, a reading and language arts teacher at Dunbar High School.

Ms. Bullock further confounded discussion by changing meeting sites and scheduling them at 4:30 p.m.—too early for many members to leave work, Ms. Smith-Butler said. It was not unusual to fail to gain the required quorum of 100 members, she said.

The disgraced union president, according to Ms. Smith-Butler, “would look around at 4:45 p.m., and say, ‘There is no quorum,’ and a number of times, we’d ask if we could wait longer, and she said, ‘No.’ ”

Ms. Bullock could not be reached for comment last week.

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