For top executives of municipal unions, the most serious troubles begin within, if they begin at all.
Norman Seabrook, president of the union representing New York City's 9,000-plus correction officers, publicly confirmed this week that federal investigators are reviewing the organization's financial records.
"This kind of thing is always from inside the union," said a longtime New York City labor consultant. "No one on the outside cares what goes on in a union. No one else is going to have the information."
In that vein, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office appears to be reviewing claims against Seabrook in a lawsuit filed by William Valentin, corresponding secretary of the city's Correction Officers Benevolent Association.
Valentin, 46, of Medford, has been a city correction officer for 25 years. He and his lawyer, Harvey Levine, say Seabrook invested millions of dollars' worth of union funds in a distressed Israeli company without providing details to the union's executive board, raising conflict-of-interest questions.
Seabrook, 55, who has headed the union for 20 years, denies all wrongdoing in sworn statements. Both he and the union's law firm, Kohler and Isaacs LLP, told The Associated Press they were cooperating fully with federal prosecutors.
Whatever happens in court, a leading critic within COBA now gets a rare turn in the public spotlight.
"The current president is a tyrant," Valentin said in an interview Thursday. "He gets his way through the executive board by retaliating or threatening." Valentin says he was temporarily removed from his position for trying to get a copy of the member mailing list, which he says should rightfully go to whoever serves in his post.
Seabrook told the AP in response that his investments were "prudent and conflict-free and their returns have been solid."
It is unusual for federal investigators to pay attention to a municipal union's dealings. For now, FBI and U.S. Attorney's officials are not commenting.
For City Hall, there's also a wider context. Bharara last year issued a report slamming cases of excessive force and other chronic issues at the sprawling Rikers Island jail complex.
By prodding the city in court to make changes, he already has turned a hard eye on the conduct of correction officers whose interests fall to Seabrook and COBA to defend.
All this brews amid a nationwide focus on police conduct and incarceration.
Word of the COBA controversy also happens to spread as Bharara pursues criminal cases against two former state legislative leaders, Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Assemb. Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan). These cases show Bharara's willingness to take on those in powerful posts as he sees fit.