James "Jake" Lemonda, the president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, is running for secretary-treasurer of the International Association of Fire Fighters amid reports of a Federal probe into pension payments made by the national union to its president, Harold Schaitberger.
Late last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's office in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Department of Labor issued subpoenas to the IAFF for records involving those payments, which reportedly exceeded $1 million.
What Journal Found
The Journal reported, "Earlier this year, the union's elected treasurer issued a scathing, 100-page report that laid out a series of alleged problems." They included Mr. Schaitberger allegedly receiving the payments while still active. The Journal in June reported that he failed to pay $1 million in taxes on more than $3 million in deferred-compensation payments he received.
The IAFF president has denied any wrongdoing, and a source at the IAFF said that an internal review of payments to Mr. Schaitberger found no impropriety.
"The documents requested relate to issues that were approved by the elected IAFF Executive Board over the past 20 years under the guidance of pension actuaries and legal counsel," the union said in a statement.
Mr. Schaitberger, who during his 20-year tenure has had union membership grow 45 percent, is not seeking re-election next January.
In an email to his 320,000 members, he stated, "I have sadly watched as division has been sown within our ranks. I see much of the anger and politics of personal destruction that have spread on social media...I cannot stand by and allow our union to become even more divided."
Mr. Schaitberger is also a vice president of the AFL-CIO, serving on the Executive Committee.
Lemonda: In Harm's Way
"The IAFF has been built on a good foundation, but recent events have put our union in harm's way," Mr. Lemonda said in a video launching his bid.
During a phone interview, he spoke of "a lot of disturbing information that has been reported from the International, and basically it comes down to financial responsibility."
Andy Ansbro, who earlier this year was elected president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said that during his campaign he heard multiple complaints from members "because we are paying [the IAFF] $1.2 million a year and we just don't believe we are receiving the services" to justify that expense.
He was enthusiastic about Mr. Lemonda's candidacy, saying, "If you want change in the IAFF, what better than having one of the members of your own department involved?"
Under Mr. Schaitberger's leadership, the IAFF was the first major union to endorse Joe Biden for President, an unpopular move with the many firefighters who support President Trump.
Earlier this month, IAFF Local 22 in Pennsylvania broke with the International to endorse Mr. Trump's re-election.