The Law Enforcement Employees Benevolent Association, whose members include Environmental Police Officers, Highway Inspectors and Sanitation Enforcement Agents, had its offices raided by FBI Agents Sept. 18, according to three sources, at a time when it is known to owe $500,000 to its longtime dental and prescription-drug providers.
Union President Kenneth Wynder did not return several calls regarding the raid and the state of LEEBA’s benefit funds, which had previously been a source of scrutiny by both the City Comptroller’s Office and the Mayor’s Office of Labor Relations. Last October, OLR began depositing scheduled welfare- and annuity-fund contributions into an escrow account, and subsequently took over responsibility for providing prescription drugs to the union’s roughly 600 members.
Following the raid—which the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District in Manhattan declined to confirm or comment on—a message was sent to LEEBA members which one Environmental Police Officer told this newspaper came from Mr. Wynder, stating that FBI agents “came to the LEEBA office at 80 Broad Street requesting all records in a form of a [search] warrant dating back to 2012. LEEBA cooperated fully with the request and [supplied] them with all information.”
It continued, “As usual, this is the [city’s] Attempt to intimidate this union into playing along and agreeing with [its] pattern bargain[ing] agenda. Because in the end this [is] what this is all about, somebody standing up to the city and telling them no. As more information become[s] available I will inform the membership.”
Mr. Wynder previously sent an Aug. 29 letter to his members regarding what he described as cancellation of their dental coverage under Emblem Health effective Sept. 1. He denied that the city took this action because of his failure to provide records known as Directive 12s to the Comptroller’s Office concerning union benefit funds. He said that LEEBA had continued to “exhaust its remaining funds” to pay for optical coverage as well as dental and prescription-drug benefits and life insurance.
“I am aware of the hardship this is to you,” the letter continued, “but that is why OLR is attacking you the members. They can’t make LEEBA fall in line and sign the pattern like every other union is doing. They chose their strategy of Economic Apartheid to stop funding LEEBA and break its members…It is repulsive that LEEBA’s fight for your contracts has caused OLR to target you in its attempt to get back at LEEBA.”
Acted at Stringer’s Urging
Top OLR officials declined to comment. In an interview late last year after the problems that led the city to take control of LEEBA’s benefit funds came to light, then-Labor Commissioner Robert W. Linn said that contrary to Mr. Wynder’s claim that he had “breached” the union’s contract of his own accord, OLR “acted at the request of the Comptroller” and supplied documents showing both repeated requests by Scott Stringer’s aides for the required audit reports and, when Mr. Wynder failed to provide them, a request that OLR and the city Corporation Counsel intervene.
At that point, Mr. Wynder had brushed off the claim that action was taken because of his lengthy delay in supplying the reports, saying in an interview, “I admit it: I’m late. So what?”
Persons familiar with the situation said that in April Mr. Wynder indicated he was filing Directive 12s for 2016 and 2017, but “what they had filed was missing some significant information.”
One of them said that city officials were exploring a way to reinstate dental coverage for LEEBA members.
While one source said it was the Comptroller’s Office that had contacted Federal prosecutors about the problem, culminating in the FBI raid and the convening of a grand jury to consider possible criminal charges, a spokeswoman for Mr. Stringer issued a Sept. 25 statement saying, “Our office is involved in ongoing litigation to acquire the records we need to complete our audit. We cannot comment further at this time.”
Defaulted on $136G Claim
But documents obtained by this newspaper involving two of LEEBA’s main benefit providers raise questions as to whether the failure to supply reports on the funds are more than a matter of lateness on Mr. Wynder’s part.
A judgment was entered in State Supreme Court in Westchester (LEEBA, according to the document, has offices in Briarcliff Manor) on April 9 awarding $136,161 for services provided, plus interest, to Delta Dental Plan of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania for nonpayment by the union. It stated that union officials “have failed to appear, answer or move herein, and the time to do so having expired, plaintiff is entitled to a judgment by default.”
The union’s longtime prescription-drug provider, Buffalo-based Independent Health’s Pharmacy Benefit Dimensions, on June 10 sent a letter to Mr. Wynder demanding payment of $363,218 which it said it was owed for the period from Jan. 1, 2014 to Dec. 17, 2018. Virtually the entire period at issue preceded the point at which OLR had ceased making required payments to the union’s benefit funds because of the Comptroller’s complaints about the failure to file the Directive 12s.
The letter from Independent Health detailed repeated delays in payment and failure to pay that prompted it to cancel its contract with the union last December, adding that if the debt was not paid immediately, PBD would “pursue all remedies available to it,” including legal action.
LEEBA: Selective Audits
LEEBA in 2017 filed a lawsuit seeking to compel Mr. Stringer to audit the welfare fund of Local 1042 of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, to which Department of Transportation Highway Inspectors belonged prior to their opting in a representation election to change unions. Mr. Wynder alleged that Local 1042 had improperly commingled benefit payments to the city Highway Inspectors with funds covering the local’s primarily private-sector membership, and said an audit was needed to determine whether millions of dollars should be transferred to his union.
He had previously claimed that the Comptroller didn’t audit some of the larger municipal unions because he valued their endorsements in his political campaigns. He questioned Mr. Stringer’s not auditing the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association even after longtime President Norman Seabrook was removed from office in 2016 and criminally convicted two years later on charges of investing $20 million in union monies with a hedge fund, which subsequently filed for bankruptcy protection, in return for a $60,000 bribe.
He has also accused OLR of targeting his union because he has ruffled feathers by raiding other city unions, something he has been able to do because LEEBA does not belong to the AFL-CIO and is therefore not covered by its no-raiding clause. He reportedly has a pending petition to gain representation rights for Special Officers at the City University of New York, who are currently part of Teamsters Local 237.
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