By Ben Velderman
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Last week, Pat Santeramo, former president of the Broward Teachers Union, was arrested and charged with 20 felonies, including racketeering, grand theft, money laundering and fraud.
Details of Santeramo’s alleged misdeeds continue to surface.
As part of a plea deal, David Esposito, the head of Marstan Construction, told investigators he routinely overcharged the Broward Teachers Union for work his company performed – ranging from $1,000 to $20,000 – with the extra money ending up in Santeramo’s pocket, reports Mike Antonucci.
In exchange for giving Santeramo the kickbacks, Esposito was being paid to perform a variety of dubious services.
From 2006 to early 2011, Esposito’s company was hired 18 times to change light bulbs, 15 times to kill weeds, 14 times to kill ants, six times to replace flags, four times to clean the union’s parking lot, and three times to clean the union’s dumpster, among other things.
Over the course of five-and-a-half years, Santeramo received $173,500 in kickbacks from the local construction company.
“The amount of cash being disbursed from union funds for such mundane tasks never lit a light bulb over anyone’s head,” Antonucci writes.
“As egregious as this list is, Esposito told police that the kickbacks to Santeramo began with the renovation of the BTU building in early 2000. There’s no telling how much union cash Santeramo collected, but he bought a $574,000 vacation home in November 2007, putting $274,000 down, and paid off the mortgage in three years,” writes Antonucci.
Santeramo is also accused of using BTU funds to reimburse himself and other union leaders for donations made to the Florida Education Association’s political action committee. One union leader is quoted as saying that “everyone was aware that they would be reimbursed, otherwise no one would have contributed.”
That says to us that the corruption in BTU headquarters extends far beyond Santeramo.
It’s ironic that the BTU boondoggle is coming to light at the very same time we’re learning that the presidents of the nation’s two largest teacher unions are taking home salaries and benefit packages of nearly $500,000 a year.
Teachers are getting their pockets picked –legally and illegally – by the very people who are supposed to be representing them. It’s common knowledge that the teacher unions don’t exist to serve children, but if they’re not even serving the best interests of their members, why have teacher unions at all?
Apparently, teachers are beginning to ask that very question, which explains why union membership is receding all across the nation.
Teacher union apologists argue that these organizations serve an important role as advocates for public education. Even if one buys that argument, it’s painfully obvious that what began as a movement has become a business, and is rapidly degenerating into a racket.