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Latest News - July 2011

July 12, 2011
Former union officials accused of embezzlement
Source: The Daily News, Galveston County
By: Chris Paschenko

A federal grand jury indictment and a lawsuit accuse a Galveston couple of the unauthorized use of a labor union’s money for trips to Hawaii and to rebuild their waterfront home damaged by Hurricane Ike.

The indictment was unsealed Friday with the arrests of Ronald Witt, 64, and his wife, Anita Witt, 56, outside their corner lot in the 6400 block of Avenue L, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office released Monday.

Ronald Witt was the business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 450 and a trustee of the local’s Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee, the indictment states.

Anita Witt was the local’s financial secretary and the committee’s coordinator, the indictment states.

The union represents 1,000 members employed in the crane rigging and hoisting industry in Southern and Eastern Texas.

Indictment: $150,203 embezzled

The couple is accused by indictment of conspiring to embezzle $89,281 in union funds and $60,922 in Welfare Benefit Plan funds between May 2007 and April 2009.

The indictment also accused the husband and wife of forging or causing to be forged business records to cover up the unauthorized charges.

A man claiming to be Ronald Witt spoke to The Daily News by telephone for about an hour Monday, saying the criminal and civil allegations against him are false and have no merit.

A woman claiming to be Anita Witt called The Daily News shortly after 5 p.m., saying the newspaper didn’t speak to her husband but instead spoke to her husband’s brother. A man claiming to be Ronald Witt’s brother later denied Anita Witt’s account, saying he didn’t give a telephone interview with the newspaper.

Anita Witt declined to comment on the allegations.

An indictment is not a guilty verdict. It means a grand jury heard enough evidence to send the case to trial.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John R. Froeschner released the Witts on Friday each on a $50,000, unsecured personal appearance bond.

Ronald Witt said he managed 1,500 workers in 101 counties, ensuring they were treated fairly, had good insurance, wages and daily allowances. He denied using union funds to make repairs to his Galveston home, or to make purchases at hardware stores and for personal meal expenses, as are alleged by indictment. He said he has receipts to prove otherwise.

‘$750,000 in unlawful expenditures’

The indictment accuses the couple of going on unspecified “luxury trips.” The lawsuit, filed by the union in federal court April 21, 2010, accuses the Witts of making more than $750,000 in unlawful expenditures in violation of their fiduciary duties. The lawsuit seeks to reclaim the money.

The lawsuit claims the Witts didn’t have union authorization to buy seven Cadillac trucks and cars and that union money was used to buy six first-class tickets to Hawaii in July 2008. The lawsuit also accuses them of making a second Hawaii trip in February 2009 and of staying at a $995-per-night Ritz-Carlton hotel. There also was an alleged trip Las Vegas, and all the trips were around the time of conventions, the lawsuit claims. The Witts weren’t in attendance, the lawsuit claims.

Ronald Witt said he went to conventions every five years. He went to Hawaii but became sick and left early. He denies going to Las Vegas.

Ronald Witt also told The Daily News he borrowed $275,000 from a bank to repair his home, which was damaged during Hurricane Ike’s Sept. 13, 2008, landfall. The storm caused widespread flooding and damaged much of the Upper Texas Coast.

“If I was stealing money, I wouldn’t borrow $275,000,” he said.

Ronald Witt called the allegations shameful.

“I want to prove I’m innocent and for them to leave me ... alone,” Witt said.

Witt intended to hire an attorney but had not as of Monday, he said.



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