UPDATE: Auburn Teacher Left $50K To Union From Which She Allegedly Took $808K

Update 1pm  4/24/13-

When she died, Sally Jo Widmer left $50,000 to the Auburn Teachers Association, the union she's accused of stealing at least $808,000 from during her 37-year tenure as its president.

According to Syracuse.com, the bequest is one of eight she made in her last will and testament, which she signed last November 5th, two days before her death.

Auburn Police are now investigating after receiving a copy of the teachers union's audit.

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The union representing the Auburn School teachers is out$ 800,000, the money apparently stolen by the woman who led the Auburn Teachers Association for more than 35 years before dying last fall.

Union officials say long-time union president Sally Jo Widmer used the money to gamble, take trips, and buy groceries.

Sally Jo Widmer

Current union President Cheryl Miskell told members during an emergency union meeting Monday that the money was discovered missing in November.

Widmer was 63 years old when she died on November 7th. Widmer was a gym teacher with the Auburn School District.

The theft was discovered as the current union leaders were in the process of canceling credit cards, reviewing bank statements and transferring cell phone accounts. Leaders immediately contacted experts at the New York State United Teachers to help unravel the union’s finances

It’s likely the union will be able to recoup its losses. The teachers association has a fidelity bond, which is an insurance policy that protects organization’s against losses due to fraud.

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Here's the letter sent to teachers this week.

 

Dear Friends and Colleagues:
I am writing to share with you a very painful development in the history of the Auburn
Teachers Association. Since the local media may report on this, I wanted you to hear about it from me first.

In November 2012, shortly after the death of our long-time president, the Association's
leadership team began to transfer fiscal responsibilities to me, as your president, and to our newly elected treasurer, John Ferrara. In the process of canceling credit cards, reviewing bank statements and transferring cell phone accounts, the Association's new leadership team discovered accounting irregularities. We immediately gathered records - including credit card statements, bank statements and cell phone bills - and contacted experts at our state affiliate for assistance.

Five months later, we are still investigating. Nonetheless, we are at the point where we can
be transparent and open to the Association membership, but also confident that our suspicions are backed up by fact. A forensic investigation has preliminary found that at least $800,000 of dues was misappropriated by our former president between 2006 and Fall 2012. It appears that money earmarked for the Association was instead used for meals, gasoline, trips, gambling, clothing, grocery shopping - and for cash advances. NYSUT is still in the process of disentangling theAssociation's finances. Because some old financial records are unavailable, we may never know the full extent of the misappropriations.

Once this news sinks in, we understand many of you will be angry and feel a deep sense of
disappointment and frustration. Some of you will ask: How did this go on for so long? Why didn't
anyone notice? Those are good questions and the current leadership team has been asking them as well. 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.

We have been working with the Accounting Department at NYSUT and with our insurance
company. We are hopeful that the Association with recoup some of its losses. This difficult episode has also prompted the leadership to put in place stronger financial controls, identifying weaknesses and putting into place new systems to correct them. We feel a strong sense of resolve that nothing Iike this should ever happen again.

At this difficult time, it's important for us to stand together and to stand strong. And, we
hope you will join us in pledging that this unfortunate and sad chapter in our history will not distract us from our core mission: providing a first-class educational experience to every student we serve.

In Solidarity,

Cheryl Miskell
President
Auburn Teachers Association

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