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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Pity poor Gary Rodrigues

By David Shapiro

For the past week, the news has brought word of tragedy from around the world.

The deadly SARS virus continues to spread as doctors race for containment and a cure before more people die.

A young woman was murdered and partially eaten by a would-be rap star who was trying to cultivate a "gangsta" image.

Some 30,000 unfortunate chickens in California were fed into wood chippers after farmers saw no point in keeping them around after they were no longer able to produce eggs and were too old to make good soup.

And then came the heartbreaking story of convicted labor leader Gary Rodrigues, who sent his lawyer before the state Circuit Court to whine that the former United Public Workers boss is broke and near starving as he awaits sentencing to federal prison on some 100 counts of mail fraud and money laundering.

The charges involve hundreds of thousands of dollars of illegal kickbacks the hungry Rodrigues took from union health plans and consulting contracts he steered to his daughter — money the court has not yet ordered him to pay back.

Nevertheless, his attorney, Eric Seitz, said, "There is no reason to think that Mr. Rodrigues is wealthy or that he has a lot of money socked away somewhere."

What, he thought the insurance kickbacks were such a dependable source of income that he saw no need to save for a rainy day?

Rodrigues complains that the UPW is dragging its feet on paying his pension since he resigned from his $200,000 job after his conviction last fall. He's also having trouble collecting another $600,000 he claims the union owes him for vacation and sick time he says he didn't use over the last 20 years.

The union won't pay his legal bills for lawsuits stemming from his alleged misdeeds as UPW state director, and as a final affront, the state government he once wielded so much power over has refused to cough up unemployment benefits.

As Tony Soprano is fond of saying, "Boo hoo hoo."

The UPW certainly should be required to pay Rodrigues any benefits he legitimately earned. But given the long pattern of corruption laid out by prosecutors during his trial, new UPW leader Peter Trask is prudent and well within his rights to take his time having Rodrigues' claims carefully scrutinized.

Particularly suspicious is Rodrigues' attempt to collect back pay for unused vacation. He says he took little vacation during his 20 years at UPW's helm, but it's well-documented that he spent an awful lot of time "working" at his Oregon ranch.

Not only did he fail to log his out-of-state ranch respites as vacation, but he often took other UPW officials with him to do maintenance work on his property.

So, in effect, the union has already paid Rodrigues for work time to build and maintain his ranch in Oregon, and now he wants the union to pay for the same time again as unused back vacation.

Rather than pay him off, we can only hope the new union leadership is preparing to send Rodrigues a bill for the value of the work UPW employees did on his ranch — and for their work time lost to UPW as a result of the Oregon treks.

Seitz conceded that Rodrigues will be "well fed and housed" by the federal prison system after he is sentenced next month, but worries how he will get by until then.

Surely his politician friends who enabled his behavior for so long would be willing to stand him a few meals.

David Shapiro can be reached at dave@volcanicash.net