Ex-Union Leader Convicted of Embezzlement

Tyrone R. Freeman used his position as president of Service Employees International Union to enrich himself as union members' expense, prosecutors argued.

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    After three days of jury deliberation, a former head of one of the nation's largest union locals was convicted Monday of embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from a Los Angeles-based labor organization that represents home healthcare workers.

    Tyrone R. Freeman, 43, was found guilty of mail fraud, embezzlement and/or theft of labor union assets, false statements and tax fraud charges, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

    "This was a case about abuse and betrayal," U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said. "Freeman abused his position as leader of the (Service Employees International Union), and he betrayed the hardworking people whose interests he was supposed to represent."

    From 2006 to 2008, Freeman was president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 6434, representing about 180,000 low-wage workers who provide in-home healthcare services.

    While serving as president of the local, prosecutors argued, Freeman used his position to enrich himself at the expense of union members.

    Evidence presented during the 10-day jury trial showed Freeman pilfered money from the local known as United Long Term Care Workers by diverting reimbursement payments from a public-sector union that had close ties to the healthcare workers’ group.

    During an 18-month period and in addition to his regular salary, Freeman secretly collected $2,500 per month from the local and California United Homecare Workers, established in 2005 to represent public-sector employees working in the state’s homecare industry, according to federal prosecutors.

    Prosecutors told jurors that Freeman used a union credit card to pay about $8,000 in personal expenses incurred during a 2006 trip to Honolulu, including bills related to his wedding.

    Embezzlement charges pertain to Freeman's theft of $17,000 from the local by routing funds through another entity closely aligned with the union -- the Long Term Care Housing Corp., a nonprofit corporation started to provide affordable housing for union members.

    Freeman was also found guilty of lying to Countrywide Bank when he told a bank representative that Local 6434 paid for his personal American Express credit card bills and the monthly lease payments for his Land Rover.

    Tax charges were filed after Freeman submitted false returns in 2006 and 2007, failing to report about $63,000 in income he received during those tax years, prosecutors said.

    In a statement, the president of National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) vehemently rebuked the actions of the competing union's former head.

    "It is outrageous that Freeman funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars of union members' dues to his relatives, paid for his wedding and entertained celebrities with expensive wine and cigars, while his hard-working members were cheated out of decent healthcare benefits and went without raises," Sal Rosselli, president of NUHW, said in a statement released late Monday.

    Freeman faces a potential decades-long prison term when he is sentenced April 22 by U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins, officials said.

    Freeman's wife, Pilar Planells, pleaded guilty in June to a misdemeanor income tax charge in connection with more than $540,000 she received in consulting payments from the local. She was sentenced to three years’ probation and ordered to pay about $129,600 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.

    NOTE: This article has been updated to reflect a correction. The original article described the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) as a sister union; it is a competing union.

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