By: Collin Roth
MILWAUKEE- Paula Dorsey, the former President of District 48 Council of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), was recently sentenced to three years probation for embezzling union funds to feed a gambling addiction. Dorsey, a former Milwaukee Public Library employee, embezzled over $180,000 of AFSCME funds and accrued total losses of $208,706 between 2004-2009. While the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s coverage of the story largely focused on Dorsey’s gambling addiction, a larger story looms that demands a real investigation.
The June 22, 2010 plea agreement in United States of America vs. Paula Dorsey describes how the bank account that Dorsey embezzled funds from was intended to finance “Operation Big Vote,” an AFSCME project to turn out the vote among minorities. The plea agreement describes “Operation Big Vote” as a benign-sounding “non-partisan AFSCME program.” However, a 2006 Florida lawsuit describes the mission of the program to register “citizens from traditionally disenfranchised communities, including low-income communities and communities of color” due to a supposed history of “voter suppression.” Over the last decade, “Operation Big Vote” has been been directly involved in voter fraud in St. Louis and has been linked to ACORN, an organization whose history of voter fraud is well documented. Clearly, “Operation Big Vote” has struggled in the arena of accountability and legality.
What is striking about Dorsey’s story is not that she embezzled all this “Operation Big Vote” money to spend at the Potawatomi Casino, but that AFSCME would never have known about the fraud if it wasn’t for the due diligence of Associated Bank that noticed large withdrawals and subsequent deposits into Dorsey’s personal account. AFSCME had no idea about Dorsey’s embezzlement scheme because the organization required no accountability for funds put into the “Operation Big Vote” account. This is detailed in the plea agreement :
“AFSCME had general policies but no specific record keeping requirement for OBV (Operation Big Vote). So while the defendant was expected to use OBV funds for OBV purposes she was not required to account to anyone as to how the money had been spent. It was understood within AFSCME circles that the OBV money was not for the defendant’s personal use, including gambling. However, the defendant was not required to turn over any records of her expenditures of OBV funds.”
What is to be made of AFSCME’s massive “Operation Big Vote” account that didn’t require any record of expenditures and allowed a flawed individual like Dorsey to perpetuate fraud? Given AFSCME’s participation in past election cycles, there is no doubt that this money was intended to drum up minority votes for Democrats, but how that was to be achieved is the question. Wouldn’t an organization that is giving union activists six-figure bank accounts want to know what they were paying for? The answer is that they know exactly what they are paying for, and chose to insulate themselves from any trail of evidence. Hence the reason that AFSCME didn’t provide any Federal investigators an opportunity to look beyond Dorsey’s relatively petty gambling addiction and ask the larger questions of what this AFSCME money was intended to purchase. Unfortunately, we are left with a simple story that proves that once again, human beings are corruptible, rather than uncovering the real story of a corrupt institution.