The AFT conducted an audit of 2009-11, and its findings of possible mismanagement - including salary overpayments to Santeramo and three other union leaders, as well as $128,634 in unexplained credit card charges - prompted four board members to call for Santeramo’s expulsion.
In November, the union’s executive board voted to temporarily hand over the day-to-day operations of the union to the AFT and strip Santeramo of his powers. He resigned on Dec. 6, just before a scheduled hearing before the BTU board and dues-paying members on whether he should keep the job.
Among the charges filed by the state attorney’s office: that Santeramo diverted about $165,500 in union funds to himself between 2001 and January 2012 through an "invoice-kickback" scheme with Marstan Construction.
In one instance, Santeramo had the company bill BTU $89,295 for repairing the BTU building elevators. Marstan gave $20,000 of the union’s payment back to Santeramo in cash, investigators found.
Santeramo is also accused of making a series of illegal campaign contributions by having 25 individuals, including BTU officials, make donations to a variety of candidates for which he then reimbursed them with BTU funds. Several of them have pleaded no contest to misdemeanor campaign finance violations and adjudication was withheld, but Tarka — who appeared with law enforcement at a Tuesday’s news conference — wouldn’t say whether they will be suspended or removed. They are Ronney Virgillito, George Segna, Lynn Cavall, Bernette Schultz and Leonard Lee.
Robert Sutton, a high school math teacher who is also campaigning for a county commission seat, said allowing those convicted BTU members to stay on board only serves to preserve the “cloud of corruption” surrounding the union.
“They’re supposed to be representing us, negotiating for us, and they come into the negotiations with zero credibility because they have criminal charges behind them,” Sutton said.
Bond for Santeramo was set at $480,000. He has significant assets — including a vacation home in posh Martin County that he bought in 2007 for $574,000, Lamberti said. But to post bond, Santeramo will have to prove he has assets that are unconnected to his alleged criminal activity.
The vacation home, Lamberti said, was an example of how Santeramo financed a extravagant lifestyle by stealing from the teachers he was supposed to represent. Santeramo bought the house with a $274,000 down payment, Lamberti said, then paid off the 30-year mortgage in only three years.
Santeramo, a former middle school music and physical education teacher, rose through the ranks of the union’s leadership. He started as a union representative, then served as vice president, and, finally, president in 2001, when Tony Gentile was forced out after his arrest on charges that he tried to engage a teenager in an online relationship.
Santeramo left his union job with $174,538 in accrued sick leave and vacation time.