FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Pat Santeramo, the former president of the Broward Teachers Union, has been arrested on charges related to racketeering, campaign fraud and theft, the Broward State Attorney's Office announced Tuesday.
In a news release, prosecutors said that after Santeramo was elected BTU president in November 2001, he "began using the BTU as his artifice to organize his scheme to defraud the union and its members."
News conference: Sheriff on arrest
Bob Norman's Blog: Santeramo charged
Santeramo is accused of diverting about $165,500 in union funds to himself through a kickback scheme with a construction company. According to the State Attorney's office, in one of 43 instances of racketeering, investigators said Santeramo had a construction company bill BTU $89,295 for an elevator repair, and the company gave $20,000 of that money to Santeramo in cash.
"Some of these kickbacks would be comical, if they weren't so criminal," said Broward County Sheriff Al Lamberti. "We're talking about changing light bulbs, ant killing. He asked the contractor, 'Add something on for me.'"
BTU whistleblower Leslie Janin-Starr said she questioned the contract as a board member.
"We asked about bids. He didn't have a bid. He just said this was the cheapest one, 'This is who we're doing business with,' kind of attitude," Janin-Starr said. "We never can get answers."
It didn't stop there, the sheriff said.
"He even used the Broward Teachers Union credit card to buy pool chemicals for his pool," Lamberti said.
"He was not concerned with the teachers. He was concerned with himself," said teacher Bob Sutton.
The owner of the construction company allegedly involved was Santeramo's friend, 60-year-old David Esposito, a former president of the Broward Housing Finance Authority. In 2010, Esposito was on the short list to become a member of the Coral Springs Commission. Esposito ran the company from his Coral Springs home.
Prosecutors said Santeramo also made a series of illegal campaign contributions by having 25 people, including members of the union, donate to a variety of candidates, and then reimbursing them with BTU money.
Santeramo is also accused of making $121,848 by claiming false sick and vacation time.
In the arrest affidavit, investigators said Santeramo "manipulated the union's business, accounting and financial operations for his own business."
Santeramo turned himself in to the Broward County Jail on Tuesday morning.
He faces 20 charges including racketeering, grand theft, campaign contribution violations, money laundering, organized scheme to defraud and conspiracy to commit racketeering.
A judge set Santeramo's bond at $480,000.
The Broward Teachers Union released a statement Tuesday, saying that it has cooperated fully with authorities and plans to continue to do so. It said the union will "explore any viable legal remedies that may be applicable to recover money to which our members are entitled." The BTU administrator, John Tarka, plans to appoint a restitution team to look into those options.
"We at BTU continue to work diligently to correct, stabilize and improve our union's financial issues, restore confidence in our great union, and provide support for the outstanding work our members do every day for the students of Broward County."
Click here to read the full BTU statement.
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