Los Angeles Times




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 Thursday.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Labor were also investigating the matter but said they have taken no enforcement actions.

Gomez was the highest-paid official at the local level, receiving nearly $100,000 a year. He can remain a union member.

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 travel.

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.


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