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SEIU leader loses post over scandal

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The president of the Service Employees International Union's biggest Michigan local has been removed from office and must refund $33,500 in housing payments that have been linked to a spending scandal at the parent organization's leading California chapter.

Rickman Jackson has agreed to return the money, will no longer serve on the SEIU's executive board and is cooperating with a federal criminal investigation of the Los Angeles-based chapter and other locals, according to union spokeswoman Michelle Ringuette.

Jackson, who has been on leave and could not be reached late Tuesday, has been reassigned to a staff organizing job at a reduced salary and is barred from seeking union office for three years, Ringuette said. "These are serious penalties," she said.

Jackson, whose Michigan local has 55,000 members, received $196,000 in total compensation last year from the L.A. union and the national office, financial statements show. He previously served as chief of staff to the president of the L.A. chapter, Tyrone Freeman. The union has removed Freeman from the payroll pending the completion of an internal probe.

The Times disclosed in August that a housing corporation associated with Freeman's local listed Jackson's Bell Gardens home as its administrative address.

At the time, Freeman and representatives of the Long-Term Care Housing Corp. would not say whether Jackson was paid for any use of his residence. Ringuette said the $33,500 was the amount paid by the corporation to lease Jackson's home.

The corporation had been founded as a nonprofit, but never received a tax exemption, lost its right to do business in California and claimed on its website to have a relationship with the prominent California Community Foundation, which said it had never heard of the group.

Compton is investigating Freeman and the corporation because the municipality provided land to the housing entity with the understanding that it was a nonprofit, officials said.

Meanwhile, The Times reported that Freeman's 160,000-member local, United Long-Term Care Workers, and a related charity have paid home-based firms owned by his wife and mother-in-law hundreds of thousands of dollars. The local has spent similar sums on a Four Season Resorts golf tournament, restaurants such as Morton's steakhouse and a Beverly Hills cigar club.

According to the SEIU, Freeman also billed the local for $8,100 in costs incurred during his Hawaiian wedding.

A third SEIU official, Annelle Grajeda, has stepped aside because of the widening scandal. Grajeda, who remains on paid leave, is an SEIU executive vice president, and heads the union's California council and another L.A local. She went on leave because of allegations that her former boyfriend received improper payments from the union.

Grajeda has denied any wrongdoing. Her former boyfriend, Alejandro Stephens, is the former president of a local that merged with Grajeda's.

Freeman, Jackson and Grajeda were all appointed to their posts by SEIU President Andy Stern.

paul.pringle@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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