Current, former UTU presidents charged with racketeering

HOUSTON -- United States Attorney Michael Shelby announced the return of an indictment on Friday charging Byron Alford Boyd, Jr., 57, Seattle, Washington; Charles Leonard Little, 69, Leander, Texas; John Russell Rookard, 57, Olalla, Washington; and Ralph John Dennis, 51, Boone, Iowa, with racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and commercial bribery. The four are charged with conspiring to violate federal mail fraud and wire fraud statutes, and commercial state bribery statutes, by using their positions of authority as officers and employees of the United Transportation Union to solicit and collect cash payments and other things of value from attorneys doing business with the union over a period of 7 years beginning in 1995. The indictment also charges two separate counts of mail fraud.

"Every union member has the right to expect that his or her elected leaders will conduct themselves honestly, and with the best interests of the union membership at heart. We cannot and will not tolerate union officials who abuse their positions of trust for personal gain", said U. S. Attorney Shelby.

Little, Boyd and Rookard are expected to make an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Marcia Crone today, Monday, September 15 at 2:00 p.m. Dennis is scheduled for Tuesday, September 16 at 2:00 p.m.

The United Transportation Union (UTU) is an international labor organization based in Cleveland, Ohio, with over 125,000 members consisting of railroad, bus, airline, and mass transit employees and retirees. The UTU represents its members in
collective bargaining with common carriers by railroads throughout the United States and Canada with respect to wages and other terms and conditions of employment.

Byron Boyd is currently the International President of the UTU and has held this position since the resignation of former International President Charles Little in
February 2001. Boyd was elected by the union membership at the UTU convention in August of this year. Little was first elected as union president in 1995 with Boyd serving as Assistant President. Little was re-elected president in 1999. Ralph Dennis was Director of Insurance for the UTU Insurance Association until his resignation from the union this past July. John Rookard is currently employed by the UTU as Special Assistant to the President, Byron Boyd.

The indictment alleges that the defendants devised and executed a scheme to defraud and to deprive the membership of the UTU of their honest services by soliciting and receiving over $477,000 in cash from various attorneys, in Houston and around the United States, performing services for the union membership as designated legal counsel. The Designated Legal Counsel (DLC) program for the UTU consists of approximately 50 attorneys throughout different regions of the United States who specialize in representing union rail employees whose injuries on the job result in claims against their employers.

Attorneys appointed by the union president as DLC became dues-paying members of the UTU and were recommended to the union membership as the best suited attorneys to handle claims brought by injured rail employees under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). FELA was enacted into law by Congress in 1908 to specifically address the dangers faced by rail employees and their need to seek compensation for injuries. Unlike state workers' compensation programs, FELA places no restrictions on the types of damages that may be recovered by rail employees and no monetary limits upon the size of recoveries. Consequently, attorneys associated with FELA practices competed for the highly coveted DLC positions.

Little and Boyd had unilateral control over the appointment of attorneys as DLC and could remove attorneys from the DLC list for any reason. The indictment charges that the defendants engaged in acts of fraud, bribery, and interstate travel in aid of racketeering relating to the conduct of the union's DLC program. Specifically, by demanding thousands of dollars in secret cash contributions for Little's and Boyd's presidential campaigns, by soliciting and collecting cash from attorneys in exchange for those attorneys being made DLC of the UTU, by soliciting and collecting cash from DLC attorneys in order for those attorneys to remain as DLC, and by using the United States mail to communicate with the DLC and other union members setting forth rules of conduct governing the DLC, including a prohibition against involvement in union politics and elections.

If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum statutory penalty of twenty years imprisonment and $250,000 fine for the racketeering conspiracy and ten years
imprisonment and $250,000 fine for each mail fraud charge. The indictment also seeks forfeiture of $477,100 in United States currency as proceeds obtained by the defendants from their racketeering activity.

The investigation of former and current officers of the UTU was initiated in 1999 by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General. The investigation continues. The case will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Edward Gallagher and Richard Magness, Houston Organized Crime Strike Force, and Trial Attorney Vincent Falvo, U.S. Department of Justice, Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, Labor Unit.

Indictments are formal accusations of criminal conduct, not evidence. Defendants are presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

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