California union leader booked on tax, embezzlement charges
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The former executive director of California’s largest labor union was booked into jail Friday after she and her husband had their first court appearance on charges including tax fraud, embezzlement, perjury and failure to pay unemployment insurance taxes.
Alma Hernandez resigned Wednesday after leading SEIU California since 2016. The union represents more than 700,000 workers and is politically influential, regularly donating millions to Democratic candidates including Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Their attorney, Jeffrey Tsai, did not respond to questions asked by reporters outside of the Sacramento County courthouse, The Sacramento Bee reported.
But in a statement Thursday, Tsai said his clients “look forward to defending themselves and their good names.”
“We disagree with the charges in this case, and they misrepresent the true facts reflecting their hard work to make an honest life for themselves and their family,” Tsai said then.
Attorney General Rob Bonta charged Hernandez and her husband, Jose Moscoso, on Oct. 4 with five felony counts of filing false tax returns, allegedly under-reporting their income by about $1.4 million over five years. They allegedly owe the state more than $140,000 and could face state prison time.
Hernandez also faces two charges of grand theft and one of perjury stemming from her work as treasurer on a 2014 political committee supporting a state Senate candidate. She is charged with directing nearly $12,000 in campaign money to her husband for campaign food services that he never provided.
Moscoso was separately charged with not reporting wages and failing to pay employment taxes for his business, LA Duct Cleaning LLC.
The charges come at a difficult time for the union.
Board members of its largest local, SEIU 1000, plan to meet this weekend in a bid to strip President Richard Louis Brown of most of his leadership power.
Those include leading contract negotiations, serving as the local’s spokesperson, presiding over board meetings, hiring and firing staff and making committee appointments, The Sacramento Bee reported.
That would would leave Brown essentially a regular board member, while allowing the 65-member board to elect a chairperson who would lead meetings and perform key duties, board member Theresa Taylor told the newspaper.
Brown took office June 30 and has been in an increasingly bitter power struggle after he won on a controversial campaign platform that included ending traditional union practices including political advocacy. He also faces lawsuits from two former employees alleging harassment and wrongful termination.
“We’re in a position that there’s too much damage being caused,” Taylor said. “We feel like if we wait too long we won’t have an SEIU Local 1000.”
Brown, who is Black, said he has been subjected to racist attacks and called the planned meeting “illegal and improper” in a text to the newspaper. He said it would violate union members’ vote and the board’s bylaws.