The Auburn Teachers Association on Monday disclosed to its membership that its former president — the late Sally Jo Widmer — misappropriated at least $800,000 in union funds for personal expenses such as gambling and trips over a period of several years.

Cheryl Miskell, who became ATA president in July, told the membership of the findings of a forensic review of union finances that began in November — after Widmer's death — when the new leadership team discovered irregularities in the process of taking over fiscal responsibilities. The local union leaders brought in the state affiliate — New York State United Teachers — to assist in the review.

Miskell delivered the findings to the Auburn Police Department on Monday. Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelmann has also been notified of the situation. No charges have been filed.

Widmer was ATA president for more than three decades, only stepping down from that role last summer. She died Nov. 7 at the age of 63. Auburn High School was closed for a day so staff could attend memorial services.

Miskell said the review discovered $800,000 in dues was misappropriated between 2006 and the fall of 2012.

"It appears that money earmarked for the Association was instead used for meals, gasoline, trips, gambling, clothing, grocery shopping — and for cash advances," she wrote to the membership. "NYSUT is still in the process of disentangling the Association's finances. Because some old financial records are unavailable, we may never know the full extent of the misappropriations."

Miskell said the ATA is bonded so it should be able to recoup some of the lost funds through its insurance carrier. She said at this point, the evidence does not point to any person other than Widmer as having misused union dues.

Miskell said the union leadership is putting stronger financial controls in place as a result of the investigation.

"We feel a strong sense of resolve that nothing like this should ever happen again," she wrote.

"In hindsight, all of us should have been more vigilant and insisted on stronger and clearer checks and balances. In a very real way, we were also victimized by what, in the end, turned out to be a massive fraud."

On Tuesday, Auburn Enlarged City School District Superintendent Constance Evelyn issued a statement in reaction to the news.

"While union dues are paid by each of the individual union members from their own money, and not by District funds, we know that a loss of this proportion to the Association will be disheartening to a large and critical segment of our staff," she said.

The district offered its assistance to the union and authorities to help with the continued investigation.

"We trust that the Association and NYSUT will take the necessary steps to remedy this situation and put the funds they collect from their members on a sound financial footing going forward," Evelyn said.

(18) comments

movedsouth
movedsouth

I guess her salary wasn't enough. Really looking out for the membership.

patchwork
patchwork

Sadly these stories pop up all too often. People put into positions of trust and all we hear is how great and wonderful they are, until we find out they were stealing from the very people that they represented. What other underhanded dealings could they be involved with? How many more crooks are there amongst us and how many of them are in positions of power and influence where people wouldn't dare question their actions or motives? It goes on and people need to pay close attention. I actually think more highly of the individuals who rob banks at gunpoint, at least they make clear their intentions.

Flinko
Flinko

Agreed Patchwork. What really smells is the people she was stealing from really trusted her. Voted for her and relied on her. I will say I've spoken to several ATA members that did not share the love. There were a few out there.

Okay, that is enough. This community is the biggest bunch of hypocrites. I am not defending Ms. Widmer's actions, but if these actions cause an outrage, you should get to the bottom of the misuse of monies by our elected officials in Albany and DC.
Look at the good this person did for this community and its children. Except for the (with apologize to Bill Mahar) "new rules"...what good will come from dragging her face in the mud??
She defended teachers, argued for better school conditions, made a positive impact on the lives of many community members and was a loud voiced advocate for Auburn's neediest children.
Enough already! "Let those without sin......."

Flinko
Flinko

800 thousand is a lot of money...

patchwork
patchwork

With all due respect Psuedelos, you are not only defending her actions, you are also trying to justify them as well. Anyone in her position would have defended teachers along with arguing for better school conditions and there are union leaders across the nation that do that everyday and they don't have their hands in the cookie jar. Yes, there are problems in Albany and DC and people are outraged, but if we can't make a difference in our own little town, what hope do we have of cleaning up Albany or Washington? As far as "dragging her face in the mud",it was the ATA who came forth with the information and NYSUT who investigated it. Would you prefer that they swept it under the rug?

Flinko
Flinko

SallyJo got away with this because she was able to put herself in the middle of the ATA and the district admin. She always painted admin as the boogeymen. She was always the great protector. So she retained power consequently. Nonsensical grievances, unsettled contracts. This went on for 3 decades!!! They only have the books for the last 6 years.

Had she ever been voted out of office books would've been revealed and... it would've meant a frog march in cuffs to the pokey. She had much to lose if she left office and was able to keep herself in office by creating a smokescreen of treachery.

Was she a good gambler? I digress.

There is a human cost and a monetary cost. Human cost is much worse. FYI- she was untrusted by many in the association but many more adored her as a hero. Always getting their back from meanies like Plume and Pabis.

This is a true tragedy. Those who supported her through the scams and lying, shame on you.

FormerStudentofAHS
FormerStudentofAHS

Seriously? As a former student of Ms. Widmer from 1981-1983, I can say she was NOT that impressive as a Physical Education Teacher. As a current Educator myself, not inspired by Ms. Widmer in any way, shape, or form, I can say SHAME on the Auburn City School District, the members of the Union in the school district, and the general public for not DEMANDING an accountability of almost 1 million dollars! People like this are who give educators in general and unions a bad reputation. Auburn should be hanging its head in shame right now!
I hope this sparks a quest for accountability that should have been there from the start!

LifeisBeautiful
LifeisBeautiful

It's very easy for people to point fingers and wonder what happened, but Sally was an incredible person who touched many lives. This just proves to show that we cannot know what a person is going through no matter how well we think we know them. Many close friends of hers feel betrayed I'm sure, but none of those feelings must come close to the pain that she felt. It saddens me to have people leave rash comments, when in actuality we will never know the entire story. I give my complete support and faith to the Union in pushing through this unfortunate series of events and continuing in the respectable work that they do.

Flinko
Flinko

She touched lives alright. She created a toxic environment where cooperation was non-existent. You're right. She was incredible. Anyone able to pull that kind of heist off is incredible. The crime was infused in the fabric of this community.

westCoastOffensive
westCoastOffensive

$800K - how do you get away with that in Auburn?
a quick math check and you simply can't spend that much on trips, gas, meals, clothes, cars without someone noticing...

I'm guessing that the big one is gambling, it's a black hole and you think you're going to get your way out of it with one more big win. That solution only works in 'The Hangover.' One more roll, one change of luck - the way you think you can get out of a bad situation makes it worse and worse. Check out Maureen O'Connor in San Diego.

30yrs in authority, maybe she was able to steamroll over attempts at checks and balances over the years. Term limits look like a great thing right now.

$800K is just sooo much for a small community, I feel awful for the people she represented and betrayed. Good luck to Ms. Miskell in sanitizing that ATA and doing the dirty work.

fed-up
fed-up

Will they ever get all the money back ? I hope the citizens of auburn don't have to bail them out by raising school taxes.

dcg
dcg

So, I wonder how all those who shed so many tears for this thief feel now ? I don't care what 'good' she did or how many lives she 'touched' --she was clearly a criminal, plain and simple and duped the entire community and especially those that the was elected to 'lead'.
What a hypocrite.

TruthHurts
TruthHurts

Lets refresh our minds!

http://auburnpub.com/news/local/longtime-auburn-teacher-union-president-dies/article_6650c755-2fea-55ce-9075-df843ece4a0b.html


http://auburnpub.com/columnists/guy_cosentino/cosentino-the-death-of-a-true-union-leader/article_26a8d073-a642-575c-880f-1a48a17b132f.html

movedsouth
movedsouth

And let's read updates!

http://auburnpub.com/news/opinion/columnists/guy_cosentino/cosentino-a-betrayal-to-the-union-community/article_92e86489-a623-563a-804b-eef58882eb49.html

movedsouth
movedsouth

So where do you draw the line? Would those articles have been written as is if this was known? Almost a million dollars, tax free, is good money.

norm
norm

Union dues are completely separate from school district public funds. There can be no tax implication on residents as a result of the money taken. It is a union matter and costs to pursue it come from its members' dues only, which are deducted from their paychecks to an account held by the ATA.

mickeymch
mickeymch

How can psuedolos say "That is enough." Because this woman's memory is being tarnished?! She deserved to end her life in prison, not be lauded in the newspaper after her death. She was a thief, not a petty thief, but a grand schemer who perpetuated her stealing over years. She misused her power and stole from the very people she was elected to represent. Yes, she's dead now and can't pay for her crimes, but this is most definitely a situation that needs to be talked about, investigated fully, and eventually serve as an example of why there should be checks and balances in place whenever money is involved..

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