Thursday, February 15, 2018
Ex business manager who had 7 Cadillacs sentenced for embezzling from union
This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on February 12th
By Torsten Ove
Power corrupts, a federal prosecutor told a judge Monday, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nelson Cohen said, “I think that’s what happened” with Ray Ventrone. He made those remarks toward the end of a marathon sentencing hearing for Ventrone, a former business manager of Boilermakers Local 154. "The harm in this case is grotesque," he said.
Ventrone, 60, stole at least $1.5 million from his union since 2010 and spent it on electronics, designer purses, cars, clothing, remodeling and other personal items. He bought so much merchandise that the FBI needed seven moving trucks to haul it all away to an auction house.
Ventrone was hoping for two years in prison based on his many character references and psychological problems, but U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak gave him 41 months and ordered him to pay more than $2.5 million total restitution to the union, an insurance company and the IRS.
At one point the judge noted that Ventrone owned seven Cadillacs and questioned how such extravagance went unnoticed.
"Didn't it strike anybody that something's up here?" he said.
Ventrone, of Scott, who resigned in 2015 when the union's international took over the finances, had been charged following an extensive investigation by the FBI, IRS and the U.S. Department of Labor that still hasn't accounted for all of his expenditures.
He pleaded guilty to a count of embezzlement and a tax evasion count in connection with failure to report the stolen money.
The exact amount is still in some dispute. His plea agreement called for paying restitution of $2.5 million, although the amount that the U.S. attorney's office said it could prove had the case gone to trial was $1.5 million.
Ventrone and his lawyer, Robert Leight, had argued that not all of the merchandise he bought with union funds was for his own benefit and that some was for union leaders or the organization's 1,300 members, such as computer equipment.
But Mr. Cohen detailed hundreds of thousands of dollars spent at various vendors from money pilfered from the union's social and building management and education funds.
He spent $970,000 at Best Buy alone. While some of that money was used for laptops for the union, Mr. Cohen said much of it was spent on DVDs and other merchandise for Ventrone's own use. He had special shelving installed at his house to hold his massive collection of DVDs.
He also spent $105,000 at the Apple store, $527,000 on purses from Louis Vuitton, $198,000 at Restoration Hardware, $10,000 on eyeglasses, $26,000 for concrete work, $38,000 on drums from Drumworld and $9,000 on his kitchen. Agents said he used union money to pay for an apartment on Banksville Road and outfit a commercial-sized private gym for his son, former NFL player Ross Ventrone, that no one in the union could use.
Part of Ventrone's defense was that he suffers from anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Mr. Cohen said those conditions were no reason for a lesser sentence.
"It felt good to spend money," he said of Ventrone's motives. "He doesn't deserve a break because he has a problem buying."
Mr. Leight presented numerous character witnesses for Ventrone who recounted his good deeds, including setting up a drug treatment program for the international union and a program in which young at-risk men could turn in guns in exchange for training to become boilermakers.
Among those testifying was Bernie Duffy, a retired boilermaker from Beechview who went to prison in the 1980s for manslaughter. He credited Ventrone with helping him get his life back on track with a career as a boilermaker, as he had done for others.
"Mr. Ventrone helped hundreds of people and never turned his back on anyone," he said.
Ross Ventrone, 31, who formerly played for the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers, said through tears that his "Pappy" worked multiple jobs to provide for the family and helped anyone in need without expecting a payback.
"My dad is the hardest-working and most giving person that I know," he said. "I'm just proud to be his son."
For his part, Ventrone apologized to his family and especially to Ross, saying his criminal case had distracted his son from his football training and shortened his career.
"I'm really sorry for that, Ross," he said.
He also briefly addressed those he victimized.
"I want to apologize to the members of Local 154," he said. "I still love that organization."
One question that arose at the sentencing and at a prior plea hearing was how Ventrone was able to get away with such massive theft for so long.
Mr. Cohen said the union at one time had internal controls over expenditures, such as requiring two signatures on checks and having the international union sign off on any purchases above $5,000.
But those measures had eroded over time. Mr. Cohen said Ventrone, whom he described as the "classic alpha male," had become so powerful that no one questioned anything he said or did.
All the while he was pretending to look out for the union members, he was fleecing them.
"Simply put," Mr. Cohen said, "Mr. Ventrone is a thief and an embezzler."
Ed. “Part of Ventrone's defense was that he suffers from anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.”
With those claims, Ventrone’s attorney—Robert Leight—relayed the absolute truth about his client to Judge Mark Hornak.
For Ventrone did indeed compulsively steal from his fellow Union members because he was obsessed with owning things he couldn’t really afford!
Union officials have stolen from the membership forever! Ventrone's mistake was not spreading the dough around to his Local 154 bosses! Had he not been so greedy, he'd still be stealing with both hands...from the Pension Fund, of course.