The looters liberals ignore

Michelle Malkin

5/2/2003 12:00:00 AM - Michelle Malkin

Peter Jennings and the New York Times couldn't get enough of the looting stories out of Iraq. But they couldn't care less about a massive, systematic looting scheme here at home that is robbing America's schoolchildren and rank-and-file teachers blind.

These homegrown plunderers have been accused or convicted of siphoning precious educational resources to pay for homes, hotel bills, mink coats, crystal, fine art, furniture, vacations, car repairs, football tickets, limousine service, their children's private school tuition, and Democrat party lobbying.

These sticky-fingered fiends are based in Washington, D.C., Miami-Dade, Fla., and in gilded office buildings across the country.

These are the looters liberals ignore: the greedy leaders of America's public teachers' unions.

While Democrats fumed over a handful of pilfered artifacts in Baghdad last month, the son-in-law of a top Washington, D.C., teachers' union official pleaded guilty in federal court to money laundering charges involving nearly half a million dollars' of union funds. Michael Wayne Martin created a bogus company and funneled more than $480,000 in checks from the Washington Teachers Union into a bank account for the fake firm.

Martin kept some of the money for himself to cover personal expenses including his home mortgage, credit card bills, car notes, vehicle maintenance, home improvement projects, his kids' school bills, Washington Redskins tickets, and limo service. The rest of the booty was repaid to former union president Barbara Bullock; her aide, Gwendolyn Hemphill (Martin's mother-in-law); and former union treasurer James Baxter.

All three are subjects of a federal grand jury investigation; they are suspected of embezzling a grand total of at least $5 million in funds over seven years. Earlier this year, FBI agents seized luxury items from their homes or businesses, including African art, designer clothes, handbags, wigs, a 50-inch flat-screen, plasma television, furs, a crystal ice bucket and a 288-piece set of Tiffany sterling silverware.

In a separate court hearing this week involving the Washington union's parent body, the American Federation of Teachers, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan lambasted national union officials for failing to audit the Washington leadership. "It's a sad commentary," Sullivan noted. "It seems everyone in a responsible position fell asleep at the switch. The only ones who were vigilant were the thieves, who took everything that wasn't nailed down."

An even bigger scandal is brewing in Miami-Dade County, Fla., which is home to the nation's fourth largest, ailing, failing, overcrowded school district. Federal and local investigators this week raided the mighty United Teachers of Dade headquarters, hauling off boxes of financial records belonging to union head Pat Tornillo. Tornillo, a Democrat heavy who commands a $4 million annual payroll (including his own $243,000 yearly salary), is suspected of diverting union funds to pay for homes, hotel bills and other perks, according to the Miami Herald.

So much for the poor students still crammed in portable classrooms failing their tests.

Tornillo oversaw a disastrous spending binge on real estate and used the union's political and economic clout to secure lucrative construction and insurance contracts for cronies, set the school year calendar, stack the school board, dominate Florida Democrat Party circles, and maintain the highest average teacher salaries in Florida.

"The mismanagement and lavish lifestyle and all of the perks at the members' expense have been pretty obvious,'' local union critic Damaris Daugherty told the Herald. So obvious, and yet so thoroughly ignored by big government elites who refuse to acknowledge what a bureaucratic parasite the teachers' union apparatus has become.

As muck-raking journalist Peter Brimelow argues in his devastating new expose, The Worm in the Apple: How the Teacher Unions Are Destroying American Education, teachers' union monopolies have put a chokehold on our education system, much like the "trusts" that stifled American businesses a century ago. Through their collective bargaining power, forced dues schemes, and "self-perpetuating staff oligarchy," the "Teacher Trust" has succeeded in providing ever more money and benefits not for students -- but for themselves. This power grab would not have been possible without a socialized government school system immune from private competition and sustained by a bottomless well of taxpayer funds.

But hey, when it's done in the name of public schoolchildren, it isn't "looting." It's "professional development."