Federal authorities have charged a former business manager for the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers with embezzling $1.5 million of union funds and evading taxes on the stolen money.
Raymond C. Ventrone, 59, was charged in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh this week with one count of embezzlement and five counts of tax evasion. Ventrone was the business manager of Boilermakers Local 154 from January 2010 to June 2015.
The charges allege that Ventrone embezzled about $1,499,000 of union funds for his own use and failed to pay income tax on the stolen monies.
The charges arise as the union’s headquarters, based in Kansas City, Kan., has again come under criticism for lavish spending practices. This month, The Star reported on a multitude of concerns, including six-figure salaries for officers and their relatives; exorbitant dining tabs; stays in posh hotels and expensive hunting retreats; cars given as parting gifts for retired employees; and hundreds of thousands spent on promotional events and videos.
The newspaper also found that International President Newton B. Jones’ wife is now on the payroll along with his brother and son, and that Jones’ base salary and total disbursements remain significantly higher than those of the leaders of the country’s biggest unions. Yet the union’s membership, at about 53,000, is in a downward spiral and its pension fund is struggling to stay afloat.
Documents indicate that Local 154 in Pittsburgh has been under investigation since at least 2015. Its most recent annual report filed with the Department of Labor said that “investigations were initiated during the year ended June 30, 2015, by the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers as well as government agencies into the financial practices of the local.”
The document said some expenses that were “personal in nature” had been “erroneously paid by the local.”
Jones issued a statement in response to the charges against Ventrone:
“The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers first became aware of inappropriate financial transactions involving the business manager of Pittsburgh Local 154 several years ago. At that time, the International union forced him from office, placed the lodge under International supervision and notified the appropriate authorities. We have worked closely with those authorities throughout the subsequent criminal investigation.”
Jones said the case “represents an extraordinary breach of trust by the local lodge’s top leader.”
“We are confident that the lodge, under new leadership, will work to rebuild the trust on behalf of its membership and the greater Pittsburgh community,” Jones said.
Ventrone faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine. He told WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh that he planned to plead guilty.
“I’m going to go do my prison time, do what I have to do and the rest is in the government’s hands,” Ventrone said.
He said it wasn’t right that he could be charged with embezzlement when the items in question were accounted for.
“How could it be embezzlement charges if they have all the goods at the hall?” he said. “I didn’t take anything.”
Ventrone is well-known in the labor movement and in the sports world. His son, Ray Ventrone, played for New England, Cleveland and San Francisco, and son Ross Ventrone played for New England and Pittsburgh.
An examination of Local 154’s annual reports reveals numerous questionable expenditures, many of them eye-popping.
Fiscal 2014 expenses included $307,316 at Best Buy for electronic equipment and “gifts,” $48,698 on computer equipment at Apple for “gifts”; and $595,000 at US Abe Bernstein Clothing for “gifts” and another $610,000 at the store for “work wear,” “Labor Day wear” and “Christmas gifts.”
Big bucks also went toward entertainment: $8,400 for “event tickets” from the Lemieux Group; $10,466 to Ticketmaster in Los Angeles; $23,575 to TNT Promotions for tickets; and $19,536 to the Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh, which sponsors boxing matches.
The lodge also spent $12,608 on Christmas decorations; $19,209 for a Christmas party; and $5,612 at Morton’s Steakhouse for “meetings.” And it spent $30,962 on a convention at the Double Tree Ocean Point in North Miami Beach, Fla., and $34,459 on a conference at the Hilton Marco Island in Florida.
Ventrone’s salary in 2014 was $191,747, with total disbursements — salary plus business expenses — of $216,172.
His 2015 salary was $156,485, and his total disbursements were $334,958.
Besides heading his local lodge, Ventrone served on the board of the $1.2 billion Boilermakers National Annuity Trust, according to a plan description posted on the union’s website. Union officials did not respond to a recent question about whether he remains a trustee.