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Freeman, former SEIU official, pleads not guilty to embezzlement

Tyrone Freeman, who headed Local 6434 of the Services Employees International Union, pleads not guilty to federal charges that he enriched himself by stealing from low-income workers he represented.

September 25, 2012|By Paul Pringle, Los Angeles Times

The former president of California’s biggest union local pleaded not guilty Monday to federal charges that he enriched himself by stealing from the low-income workers he represented.

Tyrone Freeman, who headed Local 6434 of the Service Employees International Union, entered his plea to a 15-count indictment returned in July. A trial has been set for Nov. 20 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

Freeman, 42, is free on $50,000 bail. The indictment includes allegations that he embezzled union funds, billed the organization for costs of his Hawaiian wedding, violated tax laws and gave false information to a mortgage lender. They carry combined maximum prison sentences of more than 200 years.

“The charges stem from conduct that violated the public trust,” said the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Atty. Elisa Fernandez.

Freeman’s attorney, Michael Zweiback, said he planned a “vigorous” defense that will show his client “did a lot of tremendous things to improve the working conditions of low-wage workers.”

Los Angeles-based Local 6434, known as the United Long Term Care Workers, had 160,000 members during Freeman’s tenure — it now lists 180,000 — and remains the second-largest SEIU chapter in the nation. Freeman also represented 30,000 workers as president of the California United Homecare Workers.

The indictment grew out of a nearly four-year investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor, the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service that was prompted by a series of Times reports on Freeman’s financial dealings. The ensuing scandal cost Freeman his job and spread through the SEIU, leading to the ouster of other California officials as well as the president of the union's largest Michigan local.

Citing records and interviews, The Times reported that Freeman funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars of his union members’ hard-earned dues, and money from a related charity, to his relatives. He also spent lavish sums on a Four Seasons Resort golf tournament, expensive restaurants and a Beverly Hills cigar club.

Earlier this year, his wife, Pilar Planells, pleaded guilty to an income tax charge in connection with more than $540,000 she received in consulting payments from the union.

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