Federal agents raid offices of cement workers union

Documents and computers seized from Cement Masons Union by federal agents

Federal agents have raided the offices of a Southern California cement workers union and its employee benefit trusts as part of a long-running criminal investigation of the labor organization’s leader, according to people familiar with the probe.

Agents for the U.S. Labor Department seized documents and computers from the headquarters of Cement Masons Union Local 600 in Bell Gardens, said the sources, who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly.

The agents confiscated similar material from the Arcadia office of the union’s trust funds, which pay for benefits such as health coverage and pensions, the sources said. The government also served a subpoena on the union’s international office in Maryland, seeking records related to the investigation here, according to the sources.

The target of the inquiry is Scott Brain, Local 600’s business manager and financial secretary, sources said. Investigators are examining allegations that Brain allowed employers to skip payments to the funds, spent dues money on an extramarital affair with an attorney retained by the trusts, and punished whistle-blowers, the sources said.

Contacted by phone, Brain said he was “hanging in there,” but had no comment on the raids. The head of the union’s international operation, Patrick Finley, acknowledged to The Times that search warrants were served last week at the Southern California locations, and that records from the international office have been subpoenaed.

“We’re not involved in any criminal activity,” Finley said.

He complained about the length of the investigation, which has been under way for more than three years: “I’m glad they’re finally doing something one way or another. I want to see some indictments or actual proof. … I want this thing to come to a head.”

A spokesman for the company that administers the trust funds, Zenith American Solutions, said it is cooperating with the government. “We’re not the focus of the search,” said Wayne Haddad.

In addition to the criminal probe, the Labor Department has filed a civil lawsuit accusing Brain and the trusts’ former attorney of conspiring to fire an audit director for the funds in an effort to protect the Local 600 official. The suit also names as defendants several trustees who oversee the funds, as well as Zenith and one of its account managers. In addition, it alleges that two Zenith employees were improperly fired after clashing with Brain.

Acting on information from another person associated with the union, a Labor Department agent asked the audit director, Cheryle Robbins, to cooperate and she agreed, according to those knowledgeable about the investigation. She had complained about millions of dollars in uncollected employer contributions for the trust funds.

Robbins has said the agent later served a subpoena on the trusts, and she started gathering documents. She was placed on paid leave the next day, records show.

Meeting minutes obtained by The Times state that the trustees put Robbins on leave after discussing whether she mishandled the Labor Department inquiries by not informing them or their attorney of the investigators' interest in Brain. Robbins was subsequently fired.

The former attorney for the trusts, Melissa Cook, has denied doing anything wrong. She resigned from the trusts after a federal agent called her in May 2013 and asked if she was having an affair with Brain, said people familiar with the events who were not allowed to discuss the matter.

The government's suit says Cook and Brain “admit to being in a romantic relationship beginning in May of 2012 which continued at least through March 2014.”

Brain signed Cook's checks, and her San Diego law firm's fees for representing the trusts increased significantly on his watch, billing records show. Cook has said the fees were proper.

Cook did not respond to requests for comment this week.

The suit asks the court to order the reinstatement of Robbins and the former Zenith employees, with back pay and interest, and to removal a number of trustees from their positions.

Local 600 represents about 1,800 workers. Its members helped construct Walt Disney Concert Hall, Staples Center and other signature Southern California buildings.

paul.pringle@latimes.com

Twitter: @pringlelatimes

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