EDMUND SANDER, TIMES STAFF WRITER
April 14, 2000
The head of one of Orange County's largest
unions was ousted Thursday by its international leadership for
using union funds to take personal trips to San Francisco and
Las Vegas, union officials said.
Ruben L. Gomez, business manager for the
3,100-member Laborers' International Union Local 652 in Santa
Ana, was also banned from holding office for five years and ordered
to repay an undetermined amount for the cost of two 1997 trips.
The removal of a local leader is highly unusual,
but the drastic action was taken by an international union that
has been in the spotlight in recent years for charges of corruption.
The Laborers International Union, with about
750,000 members nationwide, continues to work closely with the
U.S. Department of Justice to implement self-policing measures
and ethical reforms--steps the international agreed to take to
avert a federal takeover in 1995.
In the Gomez case, officials of the international
union conducted an internal investigation after allegations emerged
in 1998, and the international subsequently decided that Gomez
should be removed.
Gomez, who was elected the local's top officer
in 1994, appealed that ruling as "arbitrary and draconian."
But an international union appellate officer upheld the punishment
last week, and his removal was effective Thursday.
Gomez, 47, did not return telephone calls
Officials at the U.S. Department of Labor
were also investigating the matter but said they have taken no
Gomez was the highest-paid official at the
local level, receiving nearly $100,000 a year. He can remain a
In ousting Gomez, the international's independent
hearing officer who handled the investigation wrote in January:
"While the amounts of money obtained by Gomez in this case
are not large, the severity of the misappropriation is magnified
by the lengths to which Gomez . . . went to carry out the scheme."
According to the union, Gomez contrived with
other union officials to send bogus invitations to himself, requesting
his attendance at fictitious union meetings or seminars in other
cities. Gomez then used the invitations to receive the local board's
reimbursement for the trips.
The Gomez case began in 1998, when union
officials first accused Gomez of misusing union funds for personal
Mario Hernandez, an organizer at Local 652,
was also barred from holding office for five years for helping
Gomez obtain official stationery belonging to another union and
preparing one of the fake invitations.
Hernandez could not be reached for comment.