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Judy Johnson, ex-general president of American Postal Workers' Union Local 172 (representing 3500 employees), was pacing the floor of the Scoreboard Bar & Grille in Doral, talking intently on her cell phone.
Two weeks had elapsed since she and her colleague, Warren Pearlman, were suspended pending a hearing -- she as an officer of the APWU and of One Seven Two Holding Association Inc.; he simply of the latter. (The holding company, supposedly a nonprofit entity, controls the union's only asset -- the 130,680-square-foot building at 7910 NW 25th St. that houses the union hall and Scoreboard.) Johnson and Pearlman had been accused by Local 172's executive board of mismanaging union funds, setting off a chain of events that may lead to Local 172 losing the property -- which produces roughly $764,000 in annual revenues (including booze income) -- to foreclosure on November 26. Unless the union comes up with $1.9 million to pay off its mortgage note with Eastern National Bank, Local 172 is up the creek.
Although Johnson's suspension supposedly prevented her from entering the now-closed saloon, the feisty Irish woman took it upon herself to get a locksmith to spring the doors. She was there to show the membership that she was still in charge of the holding company. (Although she later left under threat of arrest for trespassing.) Among the small rabble of her supporters and enemies, Johnson told New Times that she is "being framed" by union secretary-treasurer Edmund X. Campbell -- who wants to cover up his own alleged corruption and that of other executive board members.
She charged that the executive board had no authority to remove her and Pearlman, the secretary-treasurer of the holding company (who is deferring to Johnson on the issue), because that company is a completely separate entity from the union. (According to state incorporation records, the local wasn't organized until ten years after One Seven Two Holding was created in 1961; prior to that, postal workers had an unofficial leadership but were formally unrepresented.) Johnson claimed that Campbell and the executive board were denying her access to financial documents and personal records inside Scoreboard.
The strange scene provided a glimpse into the incestuous, double-dealing world that APWU Local 172 apparently is, and made it clear that both sides bear responsibility -- largely because of their political infighting, sloppy bookkeeping, and ludicrous management decisions. Johnson, a charming but steely-hard woman who looks like a blond Elizabeth Taylor, is used to nasty union attempts to usurp her power, which she claimed in 1980 when first elected Local 172's general president. "When my enemies tell me they want to kill me, I tell them to stand in line," she laughed.
In 1998 the APWU's national executive board suspended Johnson after she was found guilty of misappropriating union funds. "I was brought up on silly charges of pocketing money [$22,464, a mere pittance!] the union got from the Postal Service's social and recreational fund," Johnson said, exasperatedly. "It's the same old garbage this time around."
Despite the suspension, the local executive board allowed her to remain as the union's "president emeritus," and the official president of the holding company, even though several members protested. Jim Guyton, a local union guy who ratted Johnson out, recalls telling then-union president and ex-Johnson stooge Gil Santana that keeping her in charge was a mistake. "I told Gil the girl couldn't handle money," said Guyton, who, ironically, was suspended from Local 172 in 1998 by its executive board for bringing charges against Johnson!
After three years of bickering among the national exec board, Johnson, and Local 172's exec board, she was reinstated by current APWU national president Bill Burrus in 2001. During that span, Guyton and union members Wilhemina Ford and SarDeborah Wright tried in vain to get the U.S. Postal Service and other federal agencies, including the FBI, to investigate Johnson and the local execs. The charge was allegedly mismanaging union and postal funds for personal benefit.
According to documents provided by the three postal workers, the Postal Service rebuffed their complaints, stating that it could not intervene in internal union business. Judy Orihuela, spokeswoman for the Miami office of the FBI, said she could not verify whether or not Jim Guyton had filed a complaint because Guyton requested anonymity. The three also said their attempts to bring out the truth went unheeded by Local 172's executive board members, including Campbell, the union's secretary-treasurer, who is nevertheless now accusing Johnson of misdeeds. And the controversy didn't end there.
Wright, a former union steward and former APWU trustee, said she constantly questioned why Local 172 was paying Johnson large sums of money without explanation. According to a 1999 internal audit, for example, it paid her $11,000. When Wright inquired what the money was for, other board members, including Campbell, told her it was to repay Johnson for legal fees in her 1998 defense.
Ford, another former union steward and a former vice president of the holding company, said Johnson rebuffed her attempts in 1999 to review One Seven Two Holding's financial records, including contracts and receipts. Ford claims Johnson then removed her as vice president without due process.
Postal worker David Figueroa said Johnson maintained an iron grip on Local 172 by instilling the fear of God in those who pried into her affairs. He claimed Johnson threatened to sue him for slander when she heard he was telling people she paid off mortgages with union funds. Figueroa, who recently met with U.S. Department of Labor investigators, denied having done so. "She came up to me and said, 'Prepare to be served,'" Figueroa recalled. "I told her, 'Served what? Dinner?'"