Ex-union official convicted in scheme Seidman found guilty on all 13 counts of embezzlement

September 27, 1996|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

The man who controlled the finances of an international maritime union for nearly 35 years was found guilty yesterday of skimming more than $800,000 in an elaborate embezzlement kick-back scheme he ran with his former friend.

Jurors in U.S. District Court in Baltimore wasted little time returning their verdicts against Harry Seidman. After hearing dozens of witnesses and seeing more than 1,000 exhibits during the 2 1/2 -week trial, they took less than five hours to find Seidman guilty on all 13 embezzlement counts.

For Seidman, it was a bizarre end to a long, complicated trial. As the jury came back with its verdict, federal agents were evacuating the building because someone left a suspected bomb on a bench outside.

But security officers cleared the way for Seidman and his family to get back into the courthouse so they could learn his fate. Alarms were blaring. An emergency light was flashing. A voice on the intercom was ordering, "Evacuate the Building." U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg hurriedly summoned the jury.

"I'm going to have the verdict read so we can evacuate," Legg said.

Seidman, 64, sat stone-faced at the defense table as the jury forewoman read out the verdicts. Visibly shaken, Seidman and his family were rushed from the courtroom and escorted out to Pratt Street.

Seidman could receive five years in prison on each count when he is sentenced on Dec. 9.

A former comptroller of the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots, Seidman concocted the scheme with his friend Ronald Schoop, 60, who owned a firm that performed printing jobs for the union.

The case came down to the word of one man: Schoop, a tough-talking son of a New York longshoreman.

For years, Schoop, a stocky man with salt and pepper hair, was a trusted friend of the Seidman family. He was a father figure for Seidman's daughter. He served as Seidman's best man at his second wedding.

"We became good friends. We used to go out to lunch every

day," Schoop testified.

That friendship ended long before Schoop showed up in federal court, where he testified a dozen feet away from his former friend. Still, Seidman's family seemed stunned by the level of the betrayal. They hung their heads when Schoop testified about trips with Seidman to massage parlors. They stared at the floor when he spoke of bogus bills and kick backs. They glared at Schoop when he lamented the loss of his friendship with Seidman.

The ties between the two men date back to the late 1970s, when Schoop was a printing broker trying to build a business in lower Manhattan, and Seidman controlled the finances of the union based a few subway stops away before it moved to Maryland in 1984.

Schoop wanted to land the lucrative union printing contract and he figured out a way to win Seidman over. He gave Seidman a Cartier watch. He took Seidman out for dinner. He gave Seidman cash. One day, in the back seat of a taxi, the overtures finally paid off, according to court testimony.

During the cab ride, Seidman told him to break down his printing bills. He told Schoop to submit invoices for typesetting, printing, alterations, art work. Some bills were legitimate; others were not.

He said Seidman covered the phony bills with union checks written to Schoop's personal bank accounts. Schoop cashed the checks, and kicked most of the cash back to Seidman.

In exchange, Schoop enjoyed the riches of the 7,000-member international union, which paid him more than $4 million over 15 years.

For years, the scheme was a success.

'Could get away with it'

Schoop testified that he submitted bills to make changes in a union wall calendar, when no changes were made. Bills to print ship boarding books, when no books were published. Bills to change the union's constitution, when no changes were made.

"Was there any basis for these changes?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Ira L. Oring asked.

"The only basis was, we could get away with it," Schoop said.

They got away with it for nearly 15 years. But there were suspicions early on. In 1984, the union hired a no-nonsense bookkeeper named Beverly Gutmann. She was troubled by what she saw.

"Did there come a time when you became suspicious about the relationship between Mr. Seidman and Mr. Schoop?" Oring asked her.

"Almost immediately," Gutmann said.

Gutmann's suspicions grew. In 1993, she found one of the most suspicious bills of all. Schoop submitted an invoice for an issue of the union newspaper -- months before it was published.

Gutmann reported her suspicions to the president of the union, who hired an outside accountant. The union called an emergency meeting three days after Christmas. Even though the two denied doing anything wrong, Seidman was forced to resign, and Schoop's ties to the union were severed.

Seidman's defense lawyer, Mark J. Biros, ridiculed the prosecution's case. He told jurors that Seidman was not a "master criminal" involved in an intricate embezzlement scheme. Instead, he said Seidman was set up.

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