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Pat Santeramo, 64, who once led the 11,000-member Broward Teachers Union, is now accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the teachers. Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti, union administrator John Tarka and Adriana Alcalde from the Broward State Attorney's Office discuss the case, while Santeramo's attorney Benedict Kuehne issued a written statement.
The former president of the Broward Teachers Union surrendered to authorities Tuesday morning to face criminal charges.
Pat Santeramo, 64, turned himself into the Broward County Main Jail at 8:30 a.m. to face 20 charges, including 19 felonies, according to the Broward State Attorney's Office.
Santeramo, who once led the 11,000-member teachers union, is now accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the teachers.
“Teachers trust their union to take care of them. But this investigation, which started last October, has confirmed that the head of the Broward Teachers Union used his position to take care of himself only," Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti said Tuesday.
The charges against Santeramo include racketeering, six counts of grand theft, five counts of campaign contribution violations, four counts of money laundering, three counts of organized scheme to defraud and one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering.
Santeramo didn't comment but his lawyer, who accompanied him into the jail, said he plans to plead not guilty. The attorney, Benedict Kuehne, also handed out a written statement.
"At no time has Pat acted dishonestly or in violation of his sacred trust to the teachers of Broward County," the statement read, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "Unfortunately, in today's troubling political times the righteous cause of organized labor is under assault."
According to the Broward State Attorney's Office, Santeramo began defrauding the union after he was elected president in November 2001.
"Santeramo, while using his unilateral control of the union’s business to include contracting, vendor approval, payment authorization and distribution of union assets, manipulated the union’s business, accounting and financial operations for his own benefit," an arrest affidavit said.
Santeramo was able to divert around $165,500 in union funds to himself through an invoice-kickback scheme with a construction company, the State Attorney's Office said.
"In one of those 43 instances of racketeering that investigators uncovered, Santeramo had the construction company bill BTU $89,295 for repairing the BTU building elevators. The company gave $20,000 of the union’s payment back to Santeramo in cash, investigators found," the State Attorney's Office said.
Santeramo resigned from the BTU in December as the executive board was set to decide whether to expel him while possible campaign violations in the form of improper candidate contributions were investigated.
According to the State Attorney's Office, Santeramo made a series of illegal campaign contributions by having 25 people, including BTU members, make donations to a variety of candidates who he then reimbursed with BTU funds.
The BTU issued a statement Tuesday, saying it has cooperated fully with authorities.
"We also acknowledge the professionalism of the Broward Sheriff's Office and the Broward State Attorney's Office and, in light of these allegations, the union will explore any viable legal remedies that may be applicable to recover money to which are members are entitled," the statement read, in part.
The union's administrator, John Tarka, said at a press conference that "these allegations, if they are proven to be true, are extraodinarily troubling."