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Feds: Former union head stole members' dues

Rufino Sanchez, an air controller labor leader, leaves

Rufino Sanchez, an air controller labor leader, leaves federal court in Central Islip after posting bail. (Aug. 16, 2012) Credit: James Carbone

A union official who prosecutors said spent about $15,000 of his members' dues on personal expenses was indicted on a charge of mail fraud Thursday.

Rufino Sanchez, 58, of East Brunswick, N.J., was named in a criminal indictment as the Federal Aviation Administration employee who was president of the local branch of the National Association of Government Employees when the alleged fraud occurred.

Court records said Sanchez worked for the Federal Aviation Administration in Ronkonkoma as an air traffic controllers assistant.

Sanchez devised a "fraudulent scheme" to use $15,723 in union dues for his own purposes while he was union president from December 2004 to November 2010, the indictment states.

He was taken into federal custody after working an overnight shift at the FAA's Air Route Traffic Control Center in Ronkonkoma, federal prosecutors said.

Robert Nardoza, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said agents with the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General arrested Sanchez.

Sanchez was released on his own recognizance after being arraigned. His next court appearance was scheduled for Sept. 14.

Tracey Gaffey, of Public Defenders of New York, represented Sanchez at the arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge William Wall. Gaffey declined to comment on the case.

The alleged fraud was uncovered when the U.S. Department of Labor conducted a compliance audit of the union, Local R-310 of the government employees' association.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Ott said Sanchez faces 22 counts of mail fraud. In the scheme, union dues were allegedly taken from workers' paychecks and sent to NAGE offices in Quincy, Mass. After deducting a portion of the money, NAGE officials in Quincy mailed a check with the remaining union money to Sanchez through the U.S. mail, the indictment states.

Sanchez deposited 56 checks into Local R-310's checking account, but used all of the money for his own purposes, accessing the money with debit cards and by writing checks, the indictment states.

At the time the money was spent, Sanchez was the "sole signatory" on Local R-310's checking account, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said they didn't know specifics about how Sanchez, a widower with a teenage son, used the money. Sanchez has worked for the FAA since 1980, the agency said.

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