Fire Fighter Union Boss Rips Off Taxpayers, Part 3: Big Labor Boss Payback

In the two previous blog installments “Part 1: Quid Pro Quo” and “Part 2: Get Out Jail Free Cards” the real-life scandal of government union boss Ron Saathoff is documented.  “Part 1” exposes Saathoff’s abuse of his position and taxpayers to reap a special taxpayer-funded retirement increase in an apparent exchange for his vote sanctioning the city employees’ pension to become increasingly underfunded.  “Part 2” exposes two politically motivated chief prosecutors whose offices dropped their cases against Saathoff for questionable reasons.

Even those two articles don’t accurately depict the huge impact of Saathoff’s scandal and how Big Labor bosses take care of themselves using taxpayer funds and forced-dues.

Fire fighters’ union General President Harold Schaitberger flaunted his power by putting Saathoff on the international union’s payroll and in-charge of the IAFF’s new Pension Department.  This was a flagrant power play, considering the controversy Saathoff was mired in since his special self-serving pension deal was unearthed.

Even Schaitberger would only stick his neck out so far.  In an act of self-preservation due diligence of his own, Schaitberger asked the union’s General Counsel Thomas A. Woodley to provide a legal imprimatur on this outrageous hiring.  Woodley’s internal memo had a bit of CYA on the counsel’s part; it begins:

“At the conclusion of our recent meeting with Pete Gorman, Baldwin Robertson, Ron Saathoff and his two criminal defense attorneys, you asked me to provide you with our opinion/advice as to whether there would be legal problems or risks for the IAFF if you decided to hire Ron Saathoff to head the organization’s new Pension Department … Because of the long and troubled history of this situation, as well as the importance of the issues involved, it is appropriate to summarize the background in detail.”

The IAFF General Counsel provided some of Saathoff’s scandalous background:

“On January 25, 2010, the California Supreme Court issued a unanimous, 65-page decision … 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.'”  [Emphasis added]

The internal memo continues:

“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… denied prospectively to all future union presidents, was uniquely advantageous to Saathoff.  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’ [Saathoff] at SDCERS.”

47 Cal. 4th, p. 1101 (as modified by the state Supreme Court, April 22, 2010).

“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.” [Emphasis added]

Fire Fighter General Counsel’s memo includes other seemingly important facts related to the actions by the IAFF, Saathoff, and his former local union:

  • “In June, 2005, Local 145 President Ron Saathoff submitted a Guardian Policy application asking the IAFF to approve EDF funds to pay for the attorneys’ fees and costs for his criminal defense.  … citing provisions of the Landrum-Griffin Act (LMRDA) and related federal court decisions, raising legal concerns that providing …the costs of Ron Saathoff’s criminal defense could be considered a violation of federal law and a breach of the IAFF’s fiduciary duty. The request for Guardian Policy assistance and funding for this purpose was not approved.”
  • “In March, 2006, Ron Saathoff asked the members of Local 145 to seek a $1 million interest-free loan from the IAFF to fund his criminal defense, and to use the Local’s headquarters as collateral … turnout at the two-night meeting was over five times the number of members who usually attend union meetings.  The members voted to reject Saathoff’s request.”
  • “In 2007, the IRS issued a ruling finding that it violated federal tax laws for SDCERS Board and the City to approve the special pension benefit that combined Ron Saathoff’s union salary with his salary as a City worker.  As a result, in 2008, the City Council cancelled the special retirement benefit for Saathoff.”
  • “While he [Saathoff] still faced state and federal criminal charges growing out of his actions related to his increased pension benefit, and after the IRS had ruled it invalid for the SDCERS Board members to provide that benefit, Saathoff sued the City in September, 2009 seeking to enforce his lost president’s benefit, plus interest.  The apparent theory of the claim was: ‘a deal is a deal, even if unlawful and unauthorized.’ On March 17, 2010, the Superior Court dismissed his claim, holding that Saathoff’s increased pension benefit was contrary to constitutional and statutory authority, and therefore unenforceable.” [Emphasis added]

To the likely surprise of firefighters in Saathoff’s own local whose forced-dues now subsidize Saathoff’s salary & benefits, the obtuse IAFF Boss Schaitberger hired their disgraced union boss who violated tax laws to obtain an enhanced personal pension.  Based on the internal memo, there are numerous reason not hire Saathoff.  More pitiful, Schaitberger put the government employees’ pension scandalized Saathoff in charge of a new IAFF’s Pensions Department.

From other internal IAFF memos Saathoff’s original IAFF income and benefit package:

“Effective November 29, 2010, Ronald Saathoff will begin his appointment as Director of the Pension Department with the International Association of Fire Fighters … Ron’s starting salary will begin at $121,486.34 on an annualized basis.”

In addition, Saathoff receives:

  • 17 vacation days per year days per year
  • 13 paid Holidays (including Inauguration Day) and all the weekdays between Christmas and New Years (“should Christmas Day, New Year’s Day or Independence Day fall on a Tuesday or Thursday, the Monday preceding or the Friday following is also observed as a holiday”)
  • Health, Life, Dental, and Vision Coverage
  • Pension Benefits – “International Association of Fire Fighters Staff Representatives’ Pension Plan, a defined benefit pension plan that is non-contributory, i.e., the IAFF funds the entire cost of the plan. You become vested in the Plan after 5 years of credited service.”
  • 401(k) Plan
  • Sick Leave – “Seventy-five percent (75%) of unused sick leave will be paid following separation from service if separation occurs after the employee meets the age and service requirements for a pension under the IAFF Staff Representatives’ Pension Plan (or any successor pension plan)”

Within his elaborate memo, which provided examples of local IAFF members’ disapproval of Saathoff’s actions and it provided summaries of Saathoff’s several prosecutions; Woodley couched the legal imprimatur that Schaitberger sought.  Woodley basically concludes that the LMRDA (Labor Management and Relations Disclosure Act, which the Department of Labor enforces and DOJ prosecutes) does not prohibit Saathoff’s hiring because he is not a convicted felon.

“While it is clear that if Saathoff had been convicted on criminal charges, he would be prohibited from holding this position within the IAFF, Saathoff has not been convicted. Indeed, all state and federal criminal charges against him have been withdrawn.  The statute applies only to people who have been convicted of a disqualifying crime and not people who have been indicted but not yet convicted.  …  Because Saathoff has not been convicted, he is not presently disqualified from employment with the IAFF.”

Hiring Saathoff currently may not be a violation of the LMRDA; however, it is an LMRDA violation to conceal Saathoff’s employee information on the IAAF’s LM-2 report, which requires Schaitberger to sign, stating all of the information is true and correct.  Schaitberger, as the General Counsel’s memo indicates, thoroughly considered hiring Saathoff, and willfully signed the IAFF’s 2010-2011 LM-2 Union Financial Disclosure Report that omits Saathoff’s employment.

Both the IAFF President and Treasurer sign the IAFF LM-2 under the following conditions:

“Each of the undersigned, duly authorized officers of the above labor organization, declares, under penalty of perjury and other applicable penalties of law, that all of the information submitted in this report (including information contained in any accompanying documents) has been examined by the signatory and is, to the best of the undersigned individual’s knowledge and belief, true, correct and complete (See Section V on penalties in the instructions.)” [Emphasis added]

Okay, looks like DOL and DOJ have a clear LMRDA violation because Saathoff was not on the LM-2 and the IAFF General Counsel’s memo proves Schaitberger was aware at the time he signed the LM-2 that Saathoff was employed by the IAFF.

Every firefighter who cares about his union and every fire fighter forced to pay dues to this union should put the pressure on DOL request that DOJ prosecute Schaitberger.  That means former AFL-CIO lawyer and current Deputy Solicitor of Labor Debra Greenfield needs to recommend to the Obama Justice Department that they prosecute IAFF President Schaitberger and, likely, General Secretary-Treasurer Thomas H Miller for concealing Ron Saathoff on the IAFF LM-2.

While, it will be the inclination of Obama’s Labor and Justice Departments to avoid this prosecution, public pressure over their failure to prosecute will expose another Obama payback to Big Labor Bosses, as will the failures of forced unionism and government employee unionism.

A new surge of pressure on San Diego mayoral candidate and current District Attorney Dumaris may force her to reopen the case she dropped “to the surprise of a number of people.”

My hope is that after reading about Saathoff scandal, you come away with a yucky feeling inside and a bad taste in your mouth.  The Saathoff scandal, unfortunately, is less rare than one might think.  Moreover, it is illustrative of the problems with government unions and the politicians that they control.  You may be thoroughly disgusted and motivated to fix the problem, and you can.  To borrow Obama’s Line that he took from SEIU, which took it from ACORN: Sí, se puede!

You can begin by taking back your local firehouses, schools, parks, and courthouses.  End forced unionism in your state.  Curtail the ability of government employees unions’ use of dues to elect bosses who then concoct these slimy deals.

Regarding Saathoff specifically, you can demand congress investigate the Justice Department.  Demand they oversee DOL’s and DOJ’s handling of the IAFF LM-2 investigation.  Ask your congressional representatives to investigate if any federal funds were involved in the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System.  And, congress might look to see if any funds for emergency service personnel are being transferred to unions via “union time” payments.

A  good start would be eliminating taxpayer-funded “union retirements” like Saathoff’s “presidential benefit” and “union time” (among other names like “official time“)  at the local, state, and federal levels.  The government unions’ municipal doomsday machine began in the 1960s, and if no one turns it off, it will swallow our entire economy and your children’s future, in addition to your own.  Remember, you still have the keys.  Use them!  Stop giving into government employees’ union bosses’ demands that you continue to give them more dollars while they negotiate to provide less and less to you.


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