LOS ANGELES - The former president of a Colton-based labor union was sentenced Tuesday in Los Angeles to a dozen years in federal prison for stealing nearly $800,000 from the union's health plan trust fund, which he used for personal expenses including legal bills and a sports car loan for his son.
John S. Romero, 74, of Loma Linda, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips, who scheduled an April 5 hearing to determine the amount of restitution Romero owes his victims.
At the conclusion of a five-day trial in February, a Los Angeles federal jury found Romero guilty of one count each of conspiracy and making a false statement to a government agency and 12 counts of theft in connection with health care.
Romero appointed himself president of United Industrial Services Workers of America and trustee of the UISWA health plan trust fund. Money paid into the fund was supposed to be used exclusively for the health care benefits of its participants. Instead, Romero stole the union's health funds for the benefit of himself and his immediate family, prosecutors said.
In furtherance of his scheme, Romero appointed a sham trustee who had no prior experience with unions. He also actively misled the third-party administrators of the health plan into making improper payments from the trust fund, according to evidence presented at his trial.
From 2008 to 2014, Romero embezzled health plan funds to pay a $110,000 personal civil judgment against himself and his son, John J. Romero, 55, also of Loma Linda. He also embezzled $40,000 to pay criminal defense lawyers in a separate case. The elder Romero funneled more than $310,000 to himself by disguising the funds as rent payments on two properties he owned and held under a shell company.
In addition, he stole more than $300,000 in union health plan money to make "salary" payments to his family, even though none of his family members ever worked for the plan and used plan funds to pay off a $25,000 loan on his son's Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 sports car.
Romero also filed a false financial report with the U.S. Department of Labor in which he concealed the existence of more than $100,000 in union receipts and disbursements held in a secret bank account and from which he made regular payments to his mistress.
Romero advanced his scheme by appointing his son as the secretary-treasurer of the union. He later appointed his ex-wife, Evelyn Romero, 71, as the UISWA president and trustee in 2010, shortly before Romero began serving a two-year federal prison sentence for making false statements to federal officials while he was president of a different labor union.
Romero's son, ex-wife and daughter, Danae Romero, 42, of Loma Linda, pleaded guilty to criminal charges. Evelyn and Danae Romero each were sentenced to two years' probation, and John J. Romero was sentenced to time served in prison, plus three years of supervised release.
At a Sept. 9 hearing, Phillips ordered restitution in the following amounts: Evelyn Romero, $316,502; John J. Romero, $273,350; and Danae Romero, $200,552.
"To execute this scheme, (John S. Romero) manipulated others, including his own family members," prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memorandum. "He employed sophisticated means in furtherance of the scheme, including by diverting trust money through a Nevada shell company to hide his theft. He lied to brokers and administrators. And he bullied and pressured those around him to get his way, thereby intimidating and abusing those who trusted him most."