Embezzlement in labor-state's largest union

Memories are short. Fortunately, the court record is forever. The Massachusetts Teachers Association, the Commonwealth's largest union, has decided to get into bed with Governor Slots and the fabulously profitable gambling industry in backing three alleged "destination resort" casinos. The state's teachers, of all people, should know better. After all, they knew Richard Anzivino all too well. If the teachers union gets its way, there will soon be many more pathetic - and costly - losers just like him calling Massachusetts home.

Let me refresh your memory. Anzivino was a quiet, rumpled accountant who lived with his elderly parents in Needham; he didn't own a car and took public transportation to work. Then, 14 years after he started at the teachers union, the telephone call finally came. On Sept. 13, 2002, the union's bank called to alert officials of nine sequentially numbered checks, each for $4,000, payable to Anzivino, the union's chief financial officer, and deposited in his personal account. Two union officials, Ed Sullivan and Ann Clarke, called Anzivino into a conference room and confronted him. What is this about?

It was, in a word, about gambling. Anzivino admitted he had been embezzling the union's money for years to pay for his high-roller trips to the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos in Connecticut. He first told them he had stolen maybe $200,000. Or was it $500,000? The final count: 270 checks totaling $802,000 in all. "OK," Anzivino subsequently told investigators, "I originally thought it was $500,000. But I'm not surprised it's $800,000."

Anzivino, through his lawyer, declined to comment. This from his deposition:

Q. And did you embezzle any or all of the $802,000?

A. Yes.

Q. How much of it?

A. All of it.

Q. Where did the $802,000 go?

A. Gambling.

Anzivino spent a year in the Billerica House of Correction and is back at the family home, still on probation. The teachers union spent an estimated $300,000 on auditors and lawyers cleaning up the mess, but did collect on Anzivino's gambling losses from two big insurance companies, which insured them against theft. Hartford Casualty Insurance Co. won a $534,000 judgment against Anzivino for its share of the losses. Good luck to them trying to collect. That money went to the wonder-of-it-all folks at Foxwoods, and they are not giving it back.

Now Governor Slots and the teachers want our own fun Foxwoods. Their simple rationale: We need the dough. The Patrick administration puts the current number of problem gamblers in Massachusetts as high as 310,000 - or about the populations of Cambridge, Brookline, Newton, and Somerville combined. A congressional gambling commission estimated that the number of problem gamblers roughly doubles within a 50-mile radius of a casino. And Governor Slots wants three.

Dick Anzivino is graphic testimony to how much damage a single gambling addict can do. What is the real cost when you apply one of the governor's famous economic multipliers?

Anne Wass, president of the teachers union, doesn't put a fine point on it: "We need the revenues for our schools." She calls Anzivino a personnel situation she would rather not discuss; he is inconvenient, no question about it. "If somebody has an addiction problem, they are going to find a way to do it," she told me.

Good teachers were some of the most important influences in my early life. In high school Mr. Bomar tried mightily to teach me to play the clarinet. Mrs. Door tried just as hard and nearly as unsuccessfully to teach me algebra. Like the great Sam Cooke, I still don't know much about algebra or a slide rule, for that matter, but I have hung on to the timeless values they and other good teachers provided me. I don't remember Mr. Bomar or Mrs. Door ever once telling me that the way to success and happiness is by putting a dollar in a slot machine.

Teachers, of all people, should know better.

- Steve Bailey is a Globe columnist.


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