By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
By Michael E. Miller
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
By Kyle Munzenrieder
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?'"
Johnson maintained she'd done nothing wrong, and had always worked in the membership's best interest. Even now, she said, facing expulsion, she is trying to save the union's building. She alleged Campbell and other union officers were paying themselves for unearned sick leave and not accounting for at least $500,000 in missing union money during the past four years.
She explained that the holding company and the union were supposed to split the costs of managing and maintaining the Scoreboard property. In addition to collecting the $764,000 in annual revenue from the site, Local 172 collects about $936,000 annually from 2900 dues-paying members (as opposed to overall postal workers). But, Johnson said, the holding company was paying all the debts. "That allowed the union to build up a treasury and have the resources to fight management," she added. "But I discovered the union treasury was down to nothing."
Johnson said Campbell cashed out a $100,000 certificate of deposit without her signature. She also accused the treasurer of improperly authorizing 45 days of unused sick pay to himself and two other union officers. "I got suspicious and began asking Edmund questions about where did all the money go," she said. "That's when he decided to come after Warren and I." Johnson added that she doesn't care if Local 172 ousts her permanently after her attempt to help the APWU save its building. During the Scoreboard confrontation, Johnson handed New Times copies of correspondence between her and loan officers at Commercial Bank in Miami, detailing a tentative agreement to refinance the union hall for $2.1 million and prevent the foreclosure. "The bank wants me as the signatory," she explained. "If I can get the closing through, the membership won't care about the other bullshit."
Campbell, however, along with union members Joe Brady and Dorothy Jenkins, recently filed for a court injunction to block Johnson, Pearlman, and the current board members of the holding company from speaking on behalf of One Seven Two. The injunction seeks to place the holding company in receivership. A court hearing was set for November 13, but Campbell withdrew the complaint based on a settlement with Johnson that will allow holding company VP Rick Mobley to sign the Commercial Bank loan on Johnson's behalf. Whether that will allow the union to save its building still remains to be seen. But Campbell, a plump black man with a Che-style beard, said the union still plans to hold Johnson and Pearlman accountable for mismanaging union funds.
"That will be addressed in the proper forum," he said. Ex-Johnson backer Santana added: "This is a very delicate situation. Until she has her day in court, we have to respect her privacy."
But in sworn affidavits filed in court, Brady, Campbell, and Jenkins throw Johnson under the bus. All three swear they became aware that she and Pearlman were, at the very least, mismanaging union funds sometime last summer, when it is alleged they began avoiding calls from vendors and creditors.
On October 16 Fans, Inc., and its owner Ronaldo Rosa sued Johnson and the holding company, alleging Johnson breached a contract for One Seven Two to buy Scoreboard from Rosa last year for $150,000. According to the lawsuit, filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, One Seven Two owes Fans roughly $48,000 for the bar and the soccer fields behind it.
Joaquin Molina, a lawyer who represented Rosa in the transaction, claimed his client spent roughly $200,000 improving the bar and stocking it with liquor. And another $100,000 adding soccer fields. Both were good sources of revenue, the soccer fields alone grossing $15,000 a week, Molina said. "She began to harass my client about eviction," he said. "He didn't feel comfortable so he agreed to let her buy him out."
Molina didn't know the union's property was facing foreclosure. "Now it looks like no one is going to get their money," he said. Others suing the holding company and Johnson include Banco America Central (BAC) Florida Bank, and WLS, a real estate brokerage firm that has been trying to collect a $65,000 court judgment against the holding company. Johnson said both the bank and WLS would get paid once the building is refinanced. She went further: She claimed that she is using her Kendall condo and her 1999 Ford Mustang as collateral on a $119,000 loan from a friend to pay off BAC(!).
The straw that broke the camel's back, Campbell and the others say, was the resignation of the union's in-house counsel Lisa Ann Spring early last month. Spring, they allege, resigned based on advice from the Florida Bar that she risked disciplinary action based on the shenanigans of Johnson and Pearlman. Spring also allegedly informed the three union officers that the building was in foreclosure as a result of Johnson's financial mismanagement.
Thus, Johnson and Pearlman's temporary suspension on October 15. Johnson appeared to have conceded defeat, admitting that she probably has no chance of saving her union presidency because her access to union members has been cut off.
"I'm just happy," Johnson swore, "that we're going to save the building."
Of course, whoever saves the building looks like a heroine to the membership.