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Former L.A. union leader sentenced to prison for fraud

September 2, 2010 |  5:25 pm

A former leader of one of California's most powerful unions was sentenced to prison Thursday for fraud, federal authorities said.

Alejandro Stephens, 66, who headed the Service Employees International Union, Local 660, in Los Angeles, was sentenced to four months in prison and three months of home confinement, the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles said. The local he headed has since merged into a larger local.

Stephens defrauded a nonprofit organization called the Voter Improvement Project out of $52,000, which he used to launch his union reelection campaign. The nonprofit group was formed to do nonpartisan voter outreach by Miguel Contreras, the late head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

In a plea bargain, Stephens pleaded guilty to mail fraud and tax evasion for his failure to report the stolen money. At his sentencing, Stephens admitted for the first time that he used the money for his 2004 reelection effort, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

The Times reported in 2008 how top SEIU officers in California improperly spent tens of thousands of dollars and engaged in questionable financial dealings. The scandals rocked the powerful organization,  the nation's fastest-growing union at the time, with 2 million members, more than 700,000 of them in California.

Click on the following link for a 2009 special report of the Times' coverage of the SEIU.

--Robert J. Lopez