The longtime head of a Carpenters union local in Maryland has been charged with stealing more than $750,000 in union money over the past five years by diverting to a secret bank account the dues-deduction checks written by employers to the union.
Michael W. Miller, 42, of Forestville, the president/business agent of Carpenters Local 1110, goes before a federal grand jury in Baltimore Wednesday to answer questions about the alleged misappropriations.
The national United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America has charged Mr. Miller with fraud and conversion of property in a civil suit filed in Prince George's County Circuit Court. On Sept. 10, the court barred him from selling any assets to protect union claims on the alleged missing funds.
The Labor Department and FBI have joined the investigation, which could lead to criminal charges, the union said.
The national union took over the 600-member local in June, dismissing all elected officials and installing Leo H. Decker, a national representative, as supervisor.
Mr. Miller denied yesterday he had taken union money and said the bank account in question was his personal account, not the union's.
"I never took anything that wasn't approved or authorized by the union," Mr. Miller said in an interview at his garden apartment in Forestville. "It's all political."
Mr. Miller described his battles with the national union office BTC since he was a charter member of Local 1110 in 1972.
His protests against appointed national presidents, frequent dues increases, eliminated apprentice training, the loss of nearly $100 million in bad real estate investments by the national union -- these are the causes of his present troubles, Mr. Miller explained. "They want me out before the [national] convention so I won't make trouble," he said. The Carpenters union elects officers at the convention beginning Oct. 7 in Atlantic City, N.J.
"I don't have any money. I sold my house and car and boat to meet my obligations," which include paying for a recent divorce and child support for three daughters, he said. Mr. Miller said he was denied unemployment benefits and has worked only seven days since he was fired from his $40,000-a-year job as business agent.
He declined, citing lawyer's advice, to answer questions about why checks written by employers to Local 1110 were deposited in his own bank account, why the account was listed under the union's name, and why the amounts of money in that account were much greater than his salary.
Mr. Decker, the appointed supervisor, said the claim that charges were brought for internal union politics was "totally inaccurate -- the general president acted quickly on learning what happened at Local 1110."
Court documents outlined the following sequence of events:
In June, an investigation began because the local was months behind in its per-capita payment of dues to the national and because of recurring shortages in the local's operating funds. Outside auditors had not detected any irregularities.
Talking with other officers, Mr. Decker said he was told by an office secretary that she cashed checks for Mr. Miller drawn on the secret account. Marshall Bradley, the treasur er, said Mr. Miller had given him a check to buy a truck, Mr. Decker reported.
Funds channeled to the bank account controlled only by Mr. Miller were supposed to pay for the local union office operations. Mr. Decker said that no members' benefits or earnings were affected.
Mr. Miller exercised his dual office of president/business agent to open all mail at the Local 1110 office and record the moneys received. He would deposit some employer checks in the secret account, then destroy the accompanying documents, the union alleges.
Monthly deposits in the account ranged from $5,000 to $36,000 in recent years, records show. Two dozen checks included in the court records were written for small amounts by Mr. Miller to jewelers, gas stations, finance companies, electronics stores, plus several written for cash.
Although the account was labeled "Local 1110 Contingency and Organization Fund," statements were sent to Mr. Miller's home address, court records show. (Mr. Miller said his Social Security number was on the account and that he was responsible for it. Three other people were listed as signatories on the account, but they never used it, he said.)
Only $1,177 remained in the account in July when the union got possession, records show.
But the local and national union sustained losses of operating funds, which could amount to more than $1 million since the secret account was set up in 1982, he said. The five-year period covered by the lawsuit was limited by the statute of limitations on possible recovery of losses, Mr. Decker explained.
Only Mr. Miller is suspected of involvement in the alleged scheme, Mr. Decker said, and no evidence suggests that others profited from the diversion.
A popular leader, Mr. Miller served as local president since 1980 and was re-elected to a new term as president/business agent in the summer of 1990.