A high-stakes power struggle at the union representing Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies has left members with two presidents, two boards of directors, two "official" websites and, for many, too much drama.
Trouble at the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs came to light last month when the board ousted Armando Macias, its newly elected president, citing his poor attendance. The board installed a new president, but Macias is refusing to recognize the ouster.
Now the two sides are accusing each other of illegitimate power grabs and misusing union funds. Macias was recently sued by his rivals, who accused him of improperly tapping into the union's political funds to pay for attorneys in his attempt to reclaim his leadership post.
For its part, Macias' camp recently unveiled its own website, declaring it "the official website" of the union. At least two union officials have sided with Macias, who counters that he's being targeted by the union's "old guard" for demanding transparency in how union dues are spent.
Both sides contend the outcome could influence who becomes the next sheriff, as the union has yet to endorse a candidate in the upcoming election.
For deputies, the infighting has been disconcerting.
"It's disgusting," one said. "These guys need to put their political aspirations to the side.... All of this infighting is not helping anybody. The big victim is going to be the general membership."
Macias' rivals say that the rightful president for the organization, which represents 7,200 deputies and district attorney investigators, is Don Jeffrey Steck.
The group behind Steck says that the ouster was legitimate but that Macias continued to insist he was in charge, showing up at the office, shouting down his opposition and sitting at the head of the conference table.
Then, according to the lawsuit, the Macias group withdrew $100,000 from the union's political action committee while the accountant was out sick, with the intention of using the money to pay the law firm backing their attempt to hold on to power.
The lawsuit describes the withdrawal as "wrongful, a breach of their fiduciary duty to ALADS, and without ALADS's authorization, permission, or knowledge."
The Macias camp put out their side of the story in a document using official union letterhead.
In it, they point out that Macias is the union's first Latino president and his second-in-command is its first black vice president. They say they are victims of "an unprecedented attempt to steal an election by an old guard's refusal to turn over control of the board, release the multi-million dollar campaign fund and respect the vote of the organization's membership."
They accuse the union's previous president, part of the coalition that ousted Macias, of refusing to make the organization's finances transparent and blocking the release of financial records, including his own expenses.
Neither side would comment on which sheriff's candidate, if any, they will endorse.
Steve Ipsen, an attorney for the Macias side, raised the possibility that Macias' opponents ousted him on a technicality to influence the endorsement process. He said his clients did take political action funds but are waiting for legal clarification on whether they can spend them.
The withdrawal may have been a violation of the union's bylaws but was justified to "preserve their rights under the law in an emergency situation," Ipsen said.