Deceased union official, suspected of embezzlement, lost huge amounts at local casino

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AUBURN, N.Y. – An upstate New York union official suspected of embezzling from the teachers union before committing suicide last November had lost more than $350,000 at a local casino.

eag1Former Auburn Teachers Association President Sally Jo Widmer, 63, lost $19,000 on slots and $342,920 on table games at central New York’s Turning Stone Casino during the last seven years of her life, during which time she is also suspected of fleecing the union of $808,000, the Syracuse Post-Standard reports.

Widmer, who served as union president for more than 30 years, committed suicide in her $825,000 home on Canandaigua Lake last November. Shortly after, an audit by the New York State United Teachers, the Auburn union’s parent organization, showed she had misappropriated $808,000 in union funds on meals, gas, trips, gambling, clothing, groceries and checks made out to herself, the newspaper reports.

Police said there are no other suspects in the union embezzlement, though they haven’t connected the stolen money directly to Widmer’s casino losses.

“It all leads to Widmer,” Auburn Police Detective Jeffery Mead told the Post-Standard. “People interviewed say the same things – they had no reason to suspect her. She did a great job as union president, she came from money, she had a good job, a good pension, she lived in a family house that had been given to her, she had no children.”

The attorney representing Widmer’s estate said he hadn’t been contacted by the union or casino to recover the owed money, but is holding her assets until the matter is settled.

Auburn Teachers Association President Cheryl Miskell said the union is waiting for police to conclude their investigation before pursuing a claim, the newspaper reports.

The case is yet another sad example of how the union power structure makes it easy for those at the top to manipulate and take advantage of their positions. Dozens of similar examples of unscrupulous, long-serving union officials sticking their hands in the cookie jar have made headlines in recent years.

We suspect that trend will continue until dues-paying members demand union bosses embrace a more accountable and transparent leadership model.

By Victor Skinner at EAGnews.org

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