The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina announced on Feb. 26 that a 46-year-old Fayetteville man who served as the secretary and treasurer of a local union between 2011 and 2015 has been sentenced to spend six months in a federal prison to be followed by three years of supervised release for embezzlement. He was sentenced according to the terms of a plea agreement he entered into with federal prosecutors in February 2019. He was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $63,315. A second man pleaded guilty to similar charges in January 2019. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for April.

Worker complaints prompt an audit

The embezzlement came to light when the United Food and Commercial Workers Union ordered an audit of Local 1208 after receiving several complaints from members in 2014. Local 1208 represents about 3,600 workers in North and South Carolina. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor Management Standards was called in to conduct a criminal investigation when the audit revealed that union funds had been misused.

Unauthorized checks and debit card purchases

After reviewing union bank accounts and financial statements, OLMS investigators concluded that the union auditors were correct and two men had embezzled more than $200,000 by making unauthorized purchases using union debit cards and writing unauthorized checks to themselves and others drawn on union bank accounts. These activities took place over a 38-month period beginning in January 2012 according to court documents. If the man had rejected a plea agreement and was found guilty by a jury, he could have been sent to prison for up to five years.

Few embezzlement cases go to trial

Cases involving white-collar crimes like embezzlement and fraud are usually settled at the negotiating table, and this is especially true when federal prosecutors are involved. This is because U.S. attorneys generally only take action after gathering overwhelming evidence, which in these cases frequently consists of documents that paint a very grim picture. However, U.S. attorneys are often willing to reduce prison sentences significantly in return for guilty pleas, and experienced criminal defense may be able to negotiate favorable plea agreements even when the cases against their clients seem strong.