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Former official of Army mechanics' union is accused of embezzling $39K for online gambling

By JACKSON COTE | masslive.com | Published: October 16, 2020

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — The former head of the New England chapter of the union representing U.S. Army civilian mechanics was indicted earlier this week over claims he embezzled nearly $39,000 in funds from the organization and used the money to cover gambling costs, authorities said.

Michael Oldham, who is from Whitman, Mass., was indicted by a federal grand jury Tuesday and arrested on charges of wire fraud, knowingly making false statements and filing false tax returns, according to authorities.

The Whitman resident was president of the Local 1900 chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) from 2016 to 2018, according to court records from U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling’s office.

From as early as 2003, Oldham, a U.S. Army civilian mechanic, was a member of the Local 1900 and went on to serve as union vice president before becoming president, according to authorities.

The New England labor union collected regular monthly dues from its members, which were then deposited and maintained at Santander Bank in Massachusetts.

As the Local 1900\u2032s president, Oldham had signatory authority over that account, officials noted.

Oldham became the head of the union in July 2016, but before he gained “ultimate control” over the union account, he asked his predecessor to sign three blank checks from the account, according to Lelling’s office.

The U.S. Attorney claimed Oldham then issued the checks to himself, falsely claiming they were for legitimate union business. Each check was worth around $1,000.

After his predecessor retired, Oldham gained sole control of the union account, and that is when the alleged wire fraud scheme started, prosecutors said.

Before Oldham was president of the union, the Local 1900\u2032s bank statements were regularly mailed to the union’s Taunton office.

However, after taking control over the union account in July 2016, Oldham changed the mailing address of the account to his home address in Whitman, which was done to prevent others from detecting his illegal scheme, the U.S. attorney claimed.

The former union head is accused of issuing himself checks worth thousands of dollars in union funds, funneling the money into his own bank account at the USAA Federal Savings Bank and using the payments for personal costs, including online gaming and gambling expenses, according to authorities.

The majority of the memos on the false checks simply said “other," but some were also fictitiously labeled “union issue,” “computer repair" or “union supplies and investigations," officials said.

Prosecutors claimed that during the three years Oldham served as president of the union, he stole a total of $38,970 in union funds as part of the wire fraud scheme.

He is also accused of intentionally omitting the “ill-gotten gains” from his personal federal income tax returns for calendar years 2016, 2017 and 2018, allowing him to receive even more money in tax refunds, according to Lelling’s office.

Furthermore, the U.S. attorney alleged, Oldham intentionally inflated his federal income tax refunds those three years by fabricating thousands of dollars in phantom business expenses.

In his 2016 tax return, the former union head is accused of falsely claiming he logged 80,000 miles of business travel, which resulted in $43,000 in sham business deductions from his total reported income, according to officials.

He is accused of making more fictitious claims in his 2017 return, lying to the federal government that he incurred $72,000 in out-of-pocket union-related business expenses, court records showed.

Those falsely reported 2017 expenses included $20,000 for “desks, chairs, bookshelves and file cabinets” and $6,000 for trade publications, according to prosecutors.

In Oldham’s 2018 return, Lelling’s office claimed, the former Local 1900 president falsely claimed he took on another $80,000 in union-related expenses, lying that he bought computers, a sofa, “additional furniture” and rugs.

Prosecutors also alleged Oldham retired in 2018 but took an early withdrawal of roughly $34,272 from his federal employee retirement account that year.

In total, the Whitman man is accused of reporting $195,000 in falsely inflated business expenses and $18,237 in fraudulently obtained tax refunds over the three-year period, according to the U.S. attorney.

Additionally, to conceal his alleged embezzlement of union funds, Oldham falsely reported on his filings to the U.S. Department of Labor in 2017 he made no disbursements to union officers that year, despite having issued himself roughly $28,400 in fraudulent checks, according to court records.

Around June 2018, a national representative of the AFGE texted Oldham to set up an appointment to review the local union’s financial records, Lelling’s office said.

“In an effort to dissuade the national representative from reviewing the records and discovering his fraud, Oldham texted the national representative: ‘I just got the message. I am at work already. I don’t have anything with me. There is not much to it. No money when out, and members are leaving, so not much in,' " court records said.

Oldham has been ordered to forfeit any property derived from the proceeds of his offenses, officials said.

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