Ex-president of Colton-based labor union sentenced to prison for stealing nearly $800K from worker health funds

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The former president of a Colton-based labor union who stole nearly $800,000 from the union’s health plan fund was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison.

John S. Romero, 74, of Loma Linda received the 144-month sentence on Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement. The amount Romero owes to his victims will be determined during a later restitution hearing.

Prosecutors contend that Romero stole millions of dollars from the union’s health trust fund to pay for personal expenses including legal bills and a car loan for his son’s sports car.

A jury last February found Romero guilty of one count of conspiracy, 12 counts of theft in connection with health care, and one count of making a false statement to a government agency, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Officials said that Romero had appointed himself president of United Industrial Services Workers of America (UISWA) and trustee of the union’s health plan fund. Romero also appointed a trustee who had no prior experience with unions and actively misled the third-party administrators of the health plan into making improper payments, officials said.

Money paid into the plan was supposed to be used for health care benefits exclusively to its participants. Instead, Romero stole the funds for the benefit of himself and his immediate family, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Prosecutors said that from 2008 to 2014, Romero embezzled money from the union’s health plan fund to pay a $110,000 personal civil judgment against himself and his 55-year-old son, John J. Romero, who is also a resident of Loma Linda. 

He also stole $40,000 to pay criminal defense lawyers to represent him in a separate case. 

Romero funneled more than $310,000 from the health plan into his personal account by disguising the funds as rent payments on two properties he owned and held under a shell company, prosecutors said.

Romero also stole an additional $300,000 in union health funds to make “salary” payments to his family, in addition to paying off a $25,000 loan on his son’s Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 sports car, officials said.

Prosecutors contend that Romero also filed a false financial report with the U.S. Department of Labor to hide more than $100,000 in union receipts and disbursements that he held in a secret bank account. The account is also one he used to make regular payments to his mistress, officials said.

Officials said that Romero appointed his son as the secretary and treasurer of the union, and his ex-wife, Evelyn Romero, 71, the union’s president and trustee while he served a two-year federal prison sentence related to making false statements to federal officials made as president of a different labor union. Romero’s son, ex-wife, and daughter, Danae Romero, 42, of Loma Linda, all pleaded guilty last year. 

Evelyn and Danae Romero each were sentenced to two years’ probation in this case, and they were ordered to pay restitution fees of $316,502 and $200,552, respectively. Meanwhile, John J. Romero was sentenced to time served in prison, plus three years of supervised release. He was ordered to pay $273,350 in restitution.

“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.”

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