The financial dealings of the New Jersey’s Washington Township Education Association are being investigated by the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office. According to Michelle Caffrey of South Jersey Times, the prosecutor’s office sent a demand to the WTEA President Bill Hughes to turn over its financial records, but the situation is clouded in mystery.
Hughes sent an email to the union’s 800 members earlier this week saying that the office informed him of an investigation. Hughes added that the prosecutor told him to expect a grand jury subpoena. Hughes won’t be required to appear in person, but he has to turn over the financial records to the investigators.
Although the spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, Bernie Weisenfeld, said that the office can neither confirm or deny an ongoing investigation, the attorney for the WTEA – Steven Cohen of Selikoff and Cohen – said that district will be cooperating and plans to turn over the documents. Cohen also expressed confidence that no wrong-doing on the part of the union will be uncovered.
In the email to union leaders, Hughes said he assured the prosecutor’s office “the WTEA would fully cooperate with the investigation as we want this matter settled and over with.”
According to Ron Lucarini, a teacher at Orchard Valley Middle School and a former union officer, the investigation is looking into concerns he and other members of the budget committee raised regarding previous union budgets and funds that were unaccounted for.
Lucarini said that he raised questions about several line items on the budget that kept reappearing every year without anyone investigating where the money was going. Lucarini’s attempts to get more details on how the money was being spent met with “all kinds of obstructions,” and no answers.
Lucarini said, adding that when he brought up concerns over bookkeeping repeatedly over the past two years, including the approval of a $300 dinner for union members at Filomena’s restaurant, he was met with “all kinds” of obstruction.
“We never see where that money went. We’re spending a million in dues, we deserve some kind of transparency,” Lucarini said.
While he said the financial records are currently well-maintained and “there’s no question as to where money’s going now,” it’s previous budgets that deserve increased scrutiny.
Meanwhile, Cohen said that the WTEA, like all unions, conducts extensive internal audits of its budget and other financial transactions and employs a certified public accountant for this purpose. He added that the union leadership is looking forward to disposing of this matter quickly.