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Ex-SEIU local chief convicted of federal corruption charges

City News Service | 1/28/2013, 1:58 p.m.

LOS ANGELES, Calif.--A former head of one of the nation's largest union locals was convicted today of federal charges of embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the Los Angeles-based labor organization.

A Los Angeles federal jury deliberated for three days before finding Tyrone R. Freeman, 43, guilty of mail fraud, embezzlement and/or theft of labor union assets, false statements and tax fraud charges, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Freeman was president of Service Employees International Union Local 6434, representing about 180,000 low-wage workers who provide in-home healthcare services, between 2006 and 2008.

Prosecutors argued that, while serving as president of the local, Freeman used his position to enrich himself at the expense of union members.

Evidence presented during the 10-day jury trial showed Freeman pilfered money from the local known as United Long Term Care Workers by diverting reimbursement payments from a public-sector union that had close ties to the healthcare workers group.

"This was a case about abuse and betrayal," U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said. "Freeman abused his position as leader of the SEIU, and he betrayed the hardworking people whose interests he was supposed to represent."

During an 18-month period, Freeman secretly collected $2,500 per month from the local and California United Homecare Workers, which was established in 2005 to represent public sector employees working in the homecare industry in California, in addition to his regular salary, according to federal prosecutors.

Prosecutors also told jurors that Freeman used a union credit card to pay about $8,000 in personal expenses incurred during a 2006 trip to Honolulu, including bills related to his wedding.

Embezzlement charges pertain to Freeman's theft of $17,000 from the local by routing funds through another entity closely aligned with the union--the Long Term Care Housing Corp., a nonprofit corporation started to provide affordable housing for union members.

Freeman was also found guilty of lying to Countrywide Bank when he told a bank representative that Local 6434 paid for his personal American Express credit card bills and the monthly lease payments for his Land Rover.

Tax charges were filed after Freeman submitted false returns in 2006 and 2007, failing to report about $63,000 in income he received during those tax years, prosecutors said.

Freeman faces a potential decades-long prison term when he is sentenced April 22 by U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins, officials said.

Freeman's wife, Pilar Planells, pleaded guilty in June to a misdemeanor income tax charge in connection with more than $540,000 she received in consulting payments from the local. She was sentenced to three years probation and ordered to pay about $129,600 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.