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Florida union exec accused of misspending, lawsuit says

Vicki Hall, the president for the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employee Florida Council 79, is accused of “stealing union funds” to pay for office renovations.
11th Judicial Circuit of Florida
11th Judicial Circuit of Florida [ (11th Judicial Circuit of Florida) ]
Published Dec. 16, 2020
Updated Dec. 17, 2020

TALLAHASSEE — A feud within one of Florida’s largest unions has spilled over into court, revealing allegations that a union president may have misused roughly $140,000 to renovate a Tallahassee office that doubles as the union’s state headquarters.

Vicki Hall, the president for the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employee Florida Council 79, is accused of “stealing union funds” to pay for office renovations that included new wood panel floors, a refinished kitchen, new bathrooms and flat screen TVs, court records show.

The allegations are included in a wrongful termination complaint filed by the union’s former in-house counsel, Stacy Wein, who claims Hall fired her a day after she testified Hall stole union funds to make “expensive but undocumented renovations” to the Tallahassee office.

“Ms. Wein, as union counsel, was in a unique position to know and to confirm that Ms. Hall was in fact stealing union funds and otherwise violating the union’s constitution and state law,” according to a complaint filed Nov. 24 in the 11th Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court Miami-Dade County circuit court.

Wein’s attorney, Matthew Sarelson, said Wednesday that Hall and AFSCME have yet to formally respond to the complaint. In a statement Wednesday evening, Hall’s attorney Mark Emanuele said there is “no factual basis to support the allegations” in the complaint, which he said contains several misstatements, misrepresentations and inaccuracies.

“There has been no misuse of funds,” Emanuele said. “We intend to vigorously defend against the claim and the baseless allegations.”

Wein said she visited the Tallahassee office on Feb. 14 and saw that the office had been renovated and that there was new landscaping outside the building, including the relocation of a large tree.

According to the complaint, Wein was told by the council’s business manager that the office renovations had cost about $140,000, that there were no invoices or receipts of the work and that an unlicensed contractor had been hired to do the work.

The office renovations became a topic of discussion at a June meeting of the union’s executive board as board members began to ask for the receipts of the work. At the meeting, Wein was asked for her legal opinion on whether the board needed to pass a motion to obtain the receipts, and she said no.

Hall immediately texted Wein to change her legal opinion “because, according to Hall, it was wrong,” the complaint says.

“Vicki Hall was demanding that her subordinate and the council’s attorney withdraw a correct legal opinion and replace it with an incorrect legal opinion solely because it would personally benefit Vicki Hall,” the complaint says.

A month after the board meeting, union members accused Hall and Council Treasurer Ketha Otis of misappropriating, embezzling and illegally using union funds for the office renovations, and filed charges against them with the judicial panel for AFSCME International, court records show.

When the judicial panel held a Sept. 28 hearing on the charges, Wein testified Hall violated the union’s constitution by not turning over receipts and invoices for the renovation work and that Hall has demanded she reconsider her legal opinion that union members could request receipts without a motion.

Florida law says labor organizations in the state have to keep receipts of all expenditures and that union members are entitled “at all reasonable times to inspect the books, records and accounts” of their unions.

The next morning, Hall fired Wein over a 90-second Zoom meeting. Wein says her termination was “malicious and vindictive” and that the reasons given in a termination letter after the Zoom call were “baseless.”

“Her truthful testimony was adverse to the personal interests of union president Vicki Hall. The very next morning, Ms. Hall terminated Ms. Wein. This lawsuit is to compensate Ms. Wein for the damage suffered as a result of her unlawful termination,” according to the complaint.

Wein lives in Broward County and when employed by the union worked primarily out of the union’s Miami Springs office. She is asking the court for a jury trial, to be compensated for back and future pay, and to be reinstated in her job with “retention of seniority and priority rights,” as well as attorney’s fees, cost and expenses.