Originally appearing at BigJournalism.com:
While the mainstream media swarmed all over Bernie Madoff, AIG and corporate billionaires, the gentlemen of the press, who are so proud of fighting for the Little Guy, were mostly out to an expense-account lunch when Melissa King allegedly made off with $42 million rightfully belonging to members of the Laborers International Union of North American (LIUNA).
In what is being called the largest union embezzlement in American history, the LIUNA Local 147 (New York) office administration was apparently unsatisfied with her meager $500,000 a year paycheck.
According to watchdog Carl Horowitz:
LIUNA Local 147 is an elite underground construction unit known as the “Sandhogs.” With roots going back well over 100 years, the heavily Irish-ethnic 1,000-member union represents the workers who dig New York City’s subway, sewer and water tunnels, often at hundreds of feet beneath the ground. It was the sandhogs who did the excavation work for such engineering marvels as the Lincoln, Holland, Queens-Midtown and Brooklyn-Battery Tunnels. Their massive ongoing main project, the Third Water Tunnel, when completed in 2020 at a projected cost of roughly $6 billion, will carry 1.3 billion gallons of water per day for 9 million area residents and ensure that water keeps running should either of the first two tunnels fails. It’s grueling and dangerous work. And the workers are paid well. They also expect to collect their full retirement benefits. But thanks to the alleged actions of Melissa King, there’s a distinct possibility they won’t.
King, 58, a resident of Irvington, N.Y., through her home-based company, King Care LLC, handled all administrative functions for Sandhog benefit funds since 1980, and at an annual official compensation that eventually reached $540,000. That’s pretty lavish even for an international union president. Apparently, it wasn’t lavish enough. Starting in 2002, prosecutors charge, King illegally transferred about $42 million from three union accounts covering pensions, vacation pay and other benefits to accounts she personally controlled. A large portion of it, to put it lightly, was unrelated to union business. Of the alleged thefts, $7.2 million went to pay off American Express bills, more than $3 million to equestrian businesses (apparently she was grooming her daughter for an equestrian career), and $713,500 to a jewelry business. The criminal complaint states she also transferred $500,000 to an E*Trade Securities account without union authorization.
Mrs. King’s lawyers made a routine statement about expected vindication, and claimed in a response to a civil suit by union trustees that she was asked to provide administrative services not usually required, and charged reasonable fees.
The link to her arrest warrant is here.
What is perhaps most shocking in this entire story is not the fact that a union officer embezzled millions (that’s been par for the course for more than a century) nor that the mainstream media initially buried the story (we’re lucky we got a CNN hit from our Andy Stern investigation); it’s that she is alleged to have run up a total of $7.2 million in AmEx debt. Really, that’s just impressive.
To its credit, The New York Times followed its initial report on the case with a an up-close-and-personal look at Mrs. King and her lavish lifestyle.
Out of more than 5,000 owners of horses ranked by the United States Equestrian Federation in hunter events, Ms. King-Kaplan’s horses, as a group, rose to 4th place in 2007 and 2008, from 913th in 2005.
“The family members always wondered how she could afford all those horses,” said Teresa Laggner, a San Diego lawyer who handles the estate of the parents of Ms. King’s fourth husband. “I guess now we know.”