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New York - Union kings live lavish lives as members suffer

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New York - As president of Metal Polishers Local 8A-28A, Hector Lopez has an unusual living arrangement - the lavish suburban mansion he calls home is owned by a company he bargains with.

The Cadillac Escalade he drives appears to have been bought with help from the union's strike fund, and he collects a salary that's $40,000 a year over what's allowed.

All of this for a union that's swimming in red ink with cash on hand to cover only a week of operations.

Lopez is one of a handful of New York City labor leaders who, critics say, use their unions as personal ATMs, enriching themselves at the expense of dues-paying members.

While the rank-and-file struggle with a faltering economy, leaders of some of these smaller boutique unions put family on the payroll, buy luxury sedans and fly off to weekend conferences in Hawaii and Florida.

Recent high-profile examples include Daniel Hughes, the ex-president of Port Authority Field Association Local 111-S, who admitted stealing $300,000 to spend on hookers and gambling.

Then there's Melissa King, an administrator charged with skimming $42 million from the sandhog union's benefit funds to buy jewelry and show horses her daughter rode in competition. She's awaiting trial.

A Daily News review of U.S. Labor Department and internal union documents, along with interviews with union members and experts, uncovered several examples of union bosses living it up on their members' money.

Take Lopez, president of the cash-strapped 1,400-member Local 8A-28A. Allegations of abuse surfaced in a recent audit conducted for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades after Lopez tried to split from the IUPAT. That power struggle is in the courts.

The audit found the union had a $329,910 deficit at the end of 2008 and barely enough cash to cover a week of operations.

Nevertheless, Lopez's $148,000 salary was $40,000 more than allowed by the local's by-laws; his weekly $445 per diem was $200 more than allowed, the audit found.

A random review of the union's Jan. 2008 American Express card bills found Lopez charging 32 transactions worth $4,395.65 whose union purpose couldn't be explained. In just one month, for instance, Lopez charged $912.34 for gas.

The audit also red-flagged two July 2007 checks totaling $20,000 - including one from the union's strike fund - that were deposited in another union account. Auditors say that same day a $20,000 check from that account paid for a new Cadillac Escalade - a violation of union bylaws.

Lopez lives in a brand new 3,600-square-foot two-story Colonial with four bedrooms in leafy Oakland Township, N.J. Records show it's owned by a Linden, N.J., window washing company, Total Building Services Inc., which, records show, has a contract with Lopez's local.

Court papers filed in May 2009 indicate Lopez planned to buy the house. No deed transfer was recorded, but The News found Lopez at the house recently where he declined comment, citing the court fight. Lopez has denied charges of financial irregularities.

Robert Fabrizio, Total Building Services president and a trustee of Local 8A-28A's welfare fund, did not return calls seeking comments.

Daily News
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