Patrick Santeramo, former Broward County, Florida Teachers Union president, was arrested today after law enforcement officials accused him of funneling tens of thousands of dollars out of the Union and into his own pocket. Santeramo, 64, was booked into Broward County Main Jail today on 20 counts total: 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 each of racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering. His bond was set at $480,000 this morning at an initial hearing.
Santeramo, who used to be a teacher himself, headed the Broward Teachers Union for over a decade. The union, which has been around for 43 years and boasts 11,500 members, purportedly lost $165,000 at Santeramo’s hands. Santeramo earned $189,000 a year as the president of the union until last July, when his salary was reduced due to pay cuts; he resigned from the post late last year because of fraud allegations. News reports indicate that he plans to plead not guilty.
The investigation into Santeramo’s alleged scheme reportedly took well over a year and involved the Broward State Attorney’s Office and the Broward Sheriff’s Office. A recent press release by the Broward State Attorney’s Office explains that the investigation found that Santeramo siphoned $165,500 out of the union over a 10-year period starting in 2001. The scheme, according to the press report, largely involved the use of invoice kickbacks. The other party involved in the kickbacks was purportedly a construction company. It is not clear whether anyone from the company has been criminally charged for the alleged fraud.
According to the release, Santeramo stole the money through 43 separate instances of racketeering. One of these allegedly involved Santeramo paying the company $89,295 in union funds for elevator repair, then receiving $20,000 of the funds back in cash from the company. The rest of the instances were allegedly similar in methodology. Santeramo also purportedly lied about sick days and vacation time, allowing him to collect nearly $122,000 from the union.
Finally, Santeramo allegedly conspired with 25 persons in order to make illegal campaign contributions. Santeramo is accused of having the co-conspirators contribute to political campaigns, then reimbursing them with union funds. It is not clear which candidates Santeramo supported in this way, nor is it clear whether any of the alleged co-conspirators are facing charges in connection to their alleged part in the scheme. Some of the persons involved, according to the press, are members of the teachers’ union.
Santeramo, who reported to jail this morning accompanied by his wife, is apparently planning on pleading not guilty to the allegations. If convicted as charged, he could face a prison sentence that extends well over a normal human lifespan, as well as some hefty fines. He has yet to comment publicly on the allegations.
One member of the unions’ executive committee who called for Santeramo’s December firing evidently told the press that he was not surprised by the allegations. “It’s probably something that had to happen, because he was taking too much leeway, and he put the union in a very, very poor financial situation that could last for the next couple of years. Am I happy about what happened? Absolutely not, but I think it’s justified,” he was quoted as telling the press.