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Published: Friday, 7/25/2008

2 ex-union officers face federal charges

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Two former top officers for Laborers' Local 500 who lost their jobs after it was revealed they used thousands of union dollars to pay for personal meals and strip-club visits are now facing federal criminal charges.

Steven Thomas, 40, of Toledo, was charged with two counts of labor union embezzlement. Thomas Leonard, 45, of Maumee, was charged with one count of labor union embezzlement. Indictments against both men were filed in U.S. District Court in Toledo late Wednesday.

The federal charges follow a lengthy Department of Labor investigation and occur nearly two years after allegations of embezzlement emerged against the two men. In 2006, the parent organization of Local 500, Laborers International Union of North America, filed disciplinary charges against the men, who both were removed from office.

According to the indictment, Mr. Thomas, who was the construction union's business manager, used a Local 500 credit card to charge visits to two strip clubs - Scarlett's Gentlemen's Club in Toledo and Kahoots Gentlemen's Club in Columbus. Specifically, the indictment alleges that Mr. Thomas used the credit card to accrue $17,500 in charges at the clubs between December, 2003, and December, 2004.

Additionally, Mr. Thomas is accused of receiving cash advances for travel between September, 2001, and October, 2005, that equaled about $11,000, but "for which he did not provide receipts or for which he did not incur legitimate union expense."

Attorney Sheldon Wittenberg, who is listed as Mr. Thomas' attorney, could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Leonard's attorney, Jerry Phillips, confirmed yesterday that his client had been charged in the case. Mr. Leonard, who was the union's recording secretary, was charged with using Local 500 credit cards to charge about $4,386 in "unauthorized personal expenditures."

"He intends to meet with the authorities to discuss the case with hopes of resolving it," Mr. Phillips said.

No court dates were set as of yesterday. The statutory maximum sentence for each charge is $10,000 in fines and up to five years in prison.

The alleged thefts were occurring over a period of months when the union's membership dwindled, budget deficits ate up the union's shrinking assets, and Local 500 canceled $15 Thanksgiving and Christmas gifts to retirees. Local 500 supplies workers for construction projects such as roads, hospitals, and schools.

Since the discovery of the allegedly misspent funds, changes have been made that now require Local 500 business agents to complete daily-activity reports of to whom they talk and where they go. Additionally, credit-card usage is monitored.

Phil Copeland, who is the union's business manager and Mr. Thomas' cousin, said yesterday that he was not aware that federal indictments had been filed. He declined to comment on the charges, saying he intended to check with the leadership of the international union.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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