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Ex-SEIU local chief Tyrone Freeman sentenced to federal prison on corruption charges

City News Service | 10/7/2013, 2:10 p.m.
Tyrone Freeman speaking at a SIEU rally in September of 2008.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — A former head of one of the nation’s largest union locals was sentenced today to nearly three years in federal prison for embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the Los Angeles-based labor organization.

Tyrone R. Freeman, 43, was convicted in January of mail fraud, embezzlement and/or theft of labor union assets, false statements and tax fraud charges.

Along with the 33-month prison term, U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins ordered Freeman to pay about $150,000 in restitution and barred him from holding any union office for 13 years after his release from prison.

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 that 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 after the verdict. “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.

Freeman’s wife, Pilar Planells, pleaded guilty last year to a misdemeanor income tax charge involving  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.