Fire Fighter Union Boss Rips Off Taxpayers, Part 2: Get Out Jail Free Cards

The previous article, “Part 1, Quid Pro Quo,” introduces the selfish Fire Fighter Union (IAFF) Local President Ron Saathoff’s successful scheme to have taxpayers fund his union officer retirement program in exchange for his votes to weaken the pension plans for San Diego government employees.  In fact, Saathoff began collecting his taxpayer-funded “enhanced pension” one year, at age 55, after he started trading his pension board votes, and several before he retired from his union presidency.

Fire Fighter Union President Harold Schaitberger has the President Obama’s ear.

However, trouble was brewing for the self-serving Saathoff.  Both State and Federal investigators were looking into this pension scheme and his quid pro quo deal.  I have received an internal IAFF memo that summarizes it this way:

“In May, 2005, Ron Saathoff and five other Board members were charged with felony violations of California state law, Government Code section 1090 (referred to as the ‘conflict-of-interest’ provision).  In essence, these criminal charges alleged that Saathoff and the five other trustees engaged in a scheme of “quid-pro-quo”–they obtained enhanced pension benefits in return for their agreement and vote allowing the City to further underfund the pension system.”

A federal indictment followed a year later, IAFF internal memo continues:


“On January 6, 2006, a federal grand jury issued a 20-count indictment against Ron Saathoff and four other Board members alleging wire fraud, mail fraud, and conspiracy.”

But, in a shocking legal maneuver that would be considered unusual for the average nonunion official, federal and state prosecutors dropped both cases against Saathoff allowing his actions to go unpunished.

The California Supreme Court unanimously found that a multi-count indictment applied only to Saathoff, and not the five other trustees who were originally included in the complaint.  This opinion drew a map of Saathoff’s quid pro quo and many expected a quick prosecution of Saathoff.  But, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who is now running for mayor, and seeking the IAFF’s endorsement, dropped the case against IAFF President Saathoff.

Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department (DOJ) also dropped the 2006 federal charges against Saathoff after DOJ first signaled its intent to appeal a lenient federal judge’s dismissal of Saathoff’s case because the law itself was “unconstitutionally vague” in relationship to Saathoff.

Over the past few years, Harold Schaitberger, Captain of his Carver yacht named 24 Karats II and the General President of the IAFF, used vast amounts of the union’s resources and influence to help elect President Obama.  Dare anyone suggest Schaitberger’s influence with the White House resulted in Obama’s politically motivated Justice Department dropping the 2006 case against Saathoff?

(Don’t know the answer.  But, IAFF has had a decade long political spending spree to try to get congress to force local firefighters and other emergency responder under federal control through the Police & Fire Monopoly-Bargaining Act.  In its 2009 and 2010 LM-2 reports, the IAFF reported spending $14 million from its forced-dues funded treasury on political activities, doubling the $7 million it reported spending on “Representational Activities.”  In addition to the dues money, according to Opensecrets.org, “Democratic candidates and committees have collected nearly $14.5 million the group’s moneyed political action committee…”)

The internal IAFF memo summarizes miscarriages of justice as follows:

“In a decision dated April 6, 2010, the U.S. District Court dismissed the Federal criminal indictments against all defendants, finding the honest services provision of 28 USC § 1346 to be unconstitutionally vague as applied to these defendants.  The Justice Department initially appealed that decision.  However, on September 10, 2010, the [Obama’s Justice] Department announced it would withdraw that appeal.  As a result, there are now no pending criminal charges against Ron Saathoff.”  [Emphasis added]

Regarding the California charges against Saathoff, the California Supreme Court stated:

“With regard to Ron Saathoff, the Court unanimously found that he was in a different position because of the enhanced pension benefit he obtained which combined both his City salary and his Union salary.  On that point, the Court explained: ‘. . .  Ronald Saathoff, could on the preliminary hearing record reasonably be suspected of having obtained a unique, personalized pension benefit as a result of voting to approve the retirement board’s contract with the City.  Such individually tailored benefits pose genuine conflict problems and do not fall under any statutory exception.'”

More from the internal IAFF memo:

“Finally, in holding Saathoff accountable under the conflict-of-interest provision of state law, the Opinion of the Supreme Court stated:

‘We turn to the separate question of Ronald Saathoff s financial interests.  The record discloses that in 2002, the San Diego City Council approved a pension benefit that uniquely benefited Saathoff as the incumbent president of the Firefighters … At the same time, the city council voted that no future union president would receive this benefit; henceforth, union presidents’ pension benefits would be calculated based only on their City salary … As such, it could be found to be an individually tailored benefit that raised the prospect of favoritism or more nefariously–under the People’s theory here–buying off a key vote, the person who ‘runs the show’ at SDCERS.’ [Emphasis added]

After the California Supreme Court rendered its 65-page decision that ” . . .raised the prospect of favoritism or more nefariously … buying off a key vote . . . ”  from Saathoff, the politically-motivated San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis dropped the case against Saathoff.  Dumanis’ inaction appeared to befuddle even IAFF union’s General Counsel Thomas Woodley who described it following manner:

“To the surprise of a number of people, on May 5, 2010, the District Attorney appeared in Superior Court and announced she was dropping the state law criminal charges against Ron Saathoff.  It is unclear as to why the charges were dropped.”

Does anyone, besides maybe an armed Black Panther at a voting location, get these kinds of get-out-of-jail-free cards that union bosses get from our legal system?

Yet, there is more to Saathoff’s scandal.  In the last installment “Part 3, Big Labor Boss Payback,” Saathoff gets a little help from a friend with a forced-dues funded treasury.

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