« In new ad, Miami Commission Chairman Francis Suarez backs Adam Kravitz for Florida House | Main | Federal judge holds off on ruling in Miami-Dade state attorney's race write-in lawsuit »

Former Broward Teachers Union president arrested after union probe found forged memo

To at least a few Broward Teachers Union board members, it was a hard pill to swallow.

When former BTU President Pat Santeramo resigned in December — a resignation prompted by a pending criminal probe into spending irregularities — the longtime union head demanded to be paid for his accumulated sick and vacation time. The final payout amounted to more than $174,000, and was calculated based on an 11-year-old memo that Santeramo himself had unearthed.

Several board members suspected the memo was a fake — the signature and even the font used in the document just didn’t look right to them.

But board members were no longer in charge. The BTU’s financial disarray had prompted the union’s parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers, to assume control — and that organization was ready to cut Santeramo a check.

“When they made the decision to pay him out, I said, ‘Does it have to be done right this second?’ ” said former BTU executive board member Jeanne Albertus.

The AFT decided it did. In a letter to the union’s rank and file, the parent organization’s newly appointed administrator, John Tarka, wrote that Santeramo was “clearly” owed the money. But Tarka wrote that the payout would be less than the nearly $231,000 Santeramo had initially requested because it had been established that Santeramo was overpaid by $56,419 during his 10-year tenure.

So Santeramo was issued a check for $174,538.70.

“Honoring our commitments is more than a legal obligation,” Tarka wrote. “It’s a statement about our character and a fundamental value we teach our children.”

On Tuesday, prosecutors charged Santeramo with an assortment of crimes ranging from maintenance contract kickbacks to illegal campaign contributions. Santeramo, through his attorney, has denied any wrongdoing.

More from Michael Vasquez here.