Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, was treasurer of the John J. Driscoll United Labor Agency during years in which $103,713 of state money dedicated to compensating workers affected by the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting went missing.
The Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Fund was originally administered by the Judicial Branch’s Office of Victim Services, but in 2016 the remaining funds, totaling $115,827, were transferred to the ULA, the charitable arm of the CT AFL-CIO.
Under two Memorandums of Understanding, the ULA would use the money “exclusively to ensure that unionized and non-unionized school personnel who were affected persons under the [Special Act 13-1] continue to have access to programs and services,” according to state auditors who documented the missing money at the request of House Republican Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby.
The audit found that between August 26, 2016 and June 30, 2018, $103,713 of the original transfer went missing, and the ULA’s cash balance had dwindled down to little more than $16,000. The ULA had distributed $6,323 to affected workers and charged $5,791 in administrative costs.
“It appears the ULA used the remaining funds for other purposes,” the auditors wrote.
Between at least 2011 and early 2018, Kushner served as treasurer of the ULA in her capacity as Region 9A Director of the United Auto Workers, according to ULA’s annual reports.
According to the ULA’s bylaws, the treasurer is in charge of maintaining “adequate and correct accounts of the financial transactions of the corporation,” and supervises “collection and disbursement of the funds of the corporation in accordance with directive of the Board of Trustees.”
Kushner retired from the UAW in early 2018 before launching her state senate campaign, and Bev Brakeman, who took over as Region 9A director for UAW, was listed as the new treasurer in the ULA’s 2018 report.
Release of the audit in December of 2019 prompted a press conference by Klarides and Rep. Mitch Bolinsky, R-Newtown.
“When you have money and it is dedicated to a charity of such a magnitude as Sandy Hook victims, that money should be in one place, we should know where the money is going, we should know who the money is being used for,” Klarides said during a December 5 press conference.
Klarides said they asked Attorney General William Tong to look into the matter several months prior to release of the audit and that the Attorney General’s Office, after investigating, said they found no wrong-doing and that the matter was resolved to their satisfaction.
Klarides said the Attorney General’s opinion was “very disappointing,” and that it prompted her request for an audit.
The Attorney General’s Office issued a press release the same day as the press conference, labeling the auditor’s findings as “very serious problems that require thorough review and investigation.”
Klarides asked that state auditors take a deeper look into how the money was spent and has put forward a bill seeking to return the funds to state control and require additional reporting on the fund’s operations.
The CT AFL-CIO, which runs the ULA, said upon learning of the missing money they immediately replaced the $103,000 and said the union was also conducting an internal investigation to determine how the money was used.
Amy Blackwood, who was executive director of the ULA during the same time Kushner was treasurer, was quickly replaced by Sal Luciano, president of the CT AFL-CIO.
Luciano also served as ULA’s Administrative Vice President during the years in question, along with labor leaders Lori Pelletier, former president of the CT AFL-CIO, and Jan Hochadel, president of the American Federation of Teachers CT.
Now in her second year serving on the state senate, Kushner chairs the Labor and Public Employees Committee, which oversees all bills related to unions, working conditions, the minimum wage and public employee collective bargaining agreements.
Kushner was a strong voice pushing for increasing the state’s minimum wage and paid Family and Medical Leave program.
Thus far, there have been no new reports on what happened to the missing $103,000 designated for workers affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy.