Late Union President’s Astonishing $800K Theft
posted at 9:39 am on April 24, 2013 by Mike Antonucci
When former Auburn Teachers Association (ATA) president Sally Jo Widmer passed away last November after more than 35 years at the helm of the small New York teachers’ union, former Auburn mayor Guy Cosentino eulogized her as “a true union leader who put her union first and personal niceties second.”
That’s because Cosentino didn’t have access to her checkbook.
Members were informed this week that Widmer misappropriated at least $800,000 in union dues during the period 2006-2012. “It appears that money earmarked for the Association was instead used for meals, gasoline, trips, gambling, clothing, grocery shopping – and for cash advances,” wrote new ATA president Cheryl Miskell. “Because some old financial records are unavailable, we may never know the full extent of the misappropriations.”
This prodigious feat of embezzlement was accomplished in a union of 390 members, whose share of dues income ranged from $89,000 to $132,000 per year. It is highly likely that Widmer stole money earmarked for transfer to the New York State United Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers (similar to a case in Maryland). NYSUT records indicate that ATA was consistently behind on its dues payments by approximately $55,000 each year.
NYSUT conducted a forensic audit late last year and the evidence was turned over to local police and district attorney yesterday. The union is covered by a fidelity bond that may restore some of these losses.
Widmer was a fixture in the community who also served as secretary of the area’s NAACP branch. The high school where she worked closed for the day in her honor when she passed away. A colleague told the Auburn Citizen at the time that “Widmer was generous, sometimes using her own money to help young teachers complete courses so they would have the proper qualifications for teaching.”
“She went out of her way to financially help people,” he said. “She was amazing.”
She certainly was.