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Brothers get jail for Florida union crimes

The McKays misused the benefit funds of maritime workers.

March 30, 2007|Vanessa Blum | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — Saying the case boiled down to a violation of trust, a federal judge sentenced the former president of a national labor union to 6 1/2 years in prison Thursday for misusing funds designated for the union's employee benefit plans.

Michael McKay, 59, who spent 12 years at the helm of the American Maritime Officers Union, was convicted in December of racketeering conspiracy and fraud after a lengthy jury trial.

U.S. District Judge James Cohn sentenced McKay's brother Robert, 56, to 15 months. Robert McKay, who was also convicted of racketeering conspiracy, had served as secretary-treasurer of the Dania Beach-based labor union.

Although both McKays occupied positions of trust, Cohn said, evidence showed Robert McKay was not as deeply involved as his brother in the fraudulent use of union funds.

Michael McKay spoke briefly at the hearing, not to apologize but to defend his tenure as president.

"I have served this union for a lot of years," he said. "I believe I leave it in better shape than when I took it over."

In a letter to Cohn, the McKays' sister, Cecelia Marceaux, wrote that the trial had been "a nightmare" for her family and said she feared that their mother would die before her brothers got out of prison.

"They are such good people, with good families," she wrote. "They don't deserve the maximum sentence."

The government investigation took more than six years. It started when a top union official came forward with allegations of illegal campaign donations, embezzlement and mismanagement of the union's benefit plans.

Prosecutors accused the McKays of running the union as a personal slush fund and using money from union members' medical, pension and vacation benefits to pay for personal luxuries.

They said Michael McKay used funds set aside for union members' insurance benefits to pay for his son's bachelor party and for personal boat repairs. The former president also was accused of rigging union elections and paying illegal campaign contributions out of benefit plan money.

The jury found Robert McKay guilty of padding his expenses and going along with other abuses.

Attorney Fred Haddad, who represents Robert McKay, said that his client could have negotiated a deal with prosecutors for a lighter sentence but that he was unwilling to testify against his brother.

Michael McKay was ordered to forfeit more than $2 million in criminal proceeds to the U.S. government and to pay the union $275,000.

Robert McKay must turn over roughly $510,000 to the government and $260,000 to the union.

Under federal law, both men are barred from holding any positions in the union for 13 years after their release from prison. The brothers are scheduled to begin serving their sentences April 30.

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