Teaching Profession

Ex-Counsel to Reimburse Miami-Dade Union $340,000

By Julie Blair — February 04, 2004 2 min read

A former lawyer for United Teachers of Dade has agreed to pay the Miami union $340,000 to keep a dispute over allegedly pilfered union money out of court. She has admitted no wrongdoing, nor has she been charged with any crime.

Elizabeth Du Fresne, a well-known labor lawyer who served as general counsel for the 14,500-member union from the 1970s until 2001, “is in ill health and needed to have this over,” said Alan G. Greer, her lawyer.

Union officials said they were pleased with the arrangement.

“It’s a good day for members of this union,” said Mark Richard, who is serving as the UTD’s administrator. “The funds are going to be put to use for that which they were intended.”

“This settlement is another step forward in our efforts to strengthen and rebuild the finances of the UTD and restore members’ faith in their union,” added Edward J. McElroy, the secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers, the UTD’s parent, in a statement.

The AFT has been working with local union officials to untangle a scheme that they say cost the UTD at least $3.35 million and to right its financial house since the story broke last spring. (“Authorities Raid Teachers’ Union in Miami-Dade,” May 7, 2003.) The organization’s audit reviewed only records from 1997 until 2002.

The document unveiled last September claimed that Ms. Du Fresne, longtime UTD leader Pat L. Tornillo Jr., and former President Murray Sisselman, now deceased, set up a company to market legitimate professional-development classes to teachers in the union, but that they siphoned $747,500 from the company into their own pockets between 1993 and 2003. Ms. Du Fresne alone stole $237,500, the audit charged.

All that money should have gone into the UTD accounts, the document said.

Responsible for Checks

Ms. Du Fresne at the time served as the president of World Wide Learning—the company the UTD officials set up—and was responsible for signing checks, Mr. Greer confirmed. She maintains that the company was above board, he said.

Ms. Du Fresne will hand over $185,000 now sitting in a World Wide Learning bank account, as well as $165,000 of her own money, Mr. Greer said.

“It is cheaper to settle,” he said, than to have the issue go to court. “With all of her medical problems, ... it would have been a strain on her health” to do so.

Mr. Tornillo pleaded guilty in September to defrauding the union and making false statements on his income- tax return. (“Miami Union Leader Pleads Guilty to Fraud,” Sept. 3, 2003.) He was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison and must repay the union $150,000.

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