FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A jury began deliberating Tuesday in the trial of former Broward Teachers Union President Pat Santeramo.
Santeramo, who was responsible for the union’s $6 million budget, is accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the union.
“Mr Santeramo was in on the scheme and, in fact, he came up with the scheme,” the prosecutor, David Schulson, told the jury. “He made that money appear legit on the books of BTU, so basically he took money illegally and tried to make it look clean.”
The state’s key witness and Santeramo’s one-time friend, David Esposito, testified last week against Santeramo.
“Was there a discussion about inflating invoices?” the prosecutor asked Esposito.
“Yes, there was,” Esposito said.
Esposito is accused of conspiring with Santeramo to pocket cash.
The operation unraveled in 2011 when Santeramo resigned and was arrested.
Esposito was given immunity in exchange for his testimony.
“At some point he asked me to give him money for work that he was giving me for BTU kickbacks,” Esposito said.
Prosecutors have identified at least $300,000 that they believe Santeramo stole in kickbacks and personal charges on company credit cards.
Esposito owned a construction company, and his business was solicited over and over again for repair work at BTU headquarters.
“I would show him what the cost was on the bills and we would inflate the bills to cover an amount of money that he would add to each invoice,” Esposito said.
Esposito said he pocketed the excess cash from the inflated bills and gave Santeramo the rest in a way to avoid detection because the money was from teachers’ union funds.
Santeramo’s attorney tried to convince the jury Tuesday that Esposito’s statements weren’t trustworthy.
“You know, Mr. Esposito is a cheat and a liar. He looked at you straight in the face and said so,” attorney Ben Kuehne said.
The judge stopped deliberations about 5 p.m. because of a prior commitment, and said the jury would return to court Wednesday morning.
Santeramo faces up to life in prison if he is convicted.