The former president of the teachers’ union at a Northeast Philadelphia school for autistic students has been charged with stealing more than $7,000 from his members.
Federal prosecutors allege that James Young, 65, of Philadelphia, embezzled the funds between 2015 and 2017 while leading Local 4973 of the American Federation of Teachers, which serves the faculty and support staff at Merakey Education Center-Woodhaven, a school for children with developmental disabilities.
Young could not be reached immediately Thursday. His lawyer, federal public defender Maria Antoinette Pedraza, did not return calls seeking comment.
Young was charged Monday by criminal information instead of indictment — typically a sign that he waived the right to have his case heard before a grand jury and has agreed to plead guilty.
U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Savage has not yet scheduled a hearing to accept Young’s guilty plea on one count of theft of union funds, a charge that carries a prison sentence of up to five years.
This is not the first time the troubled 32-member union local at Woodhaven has dealt with financial impropriety involving its leadership.
In 2009, the local’s former treasurer Grace Gaines was sentenced to six months’ house arrest after she was caught diverting $17,800 in union dues into her personal bank account between 2002 and 2006.
Young’s alleged misdeeds came to light in 2017, when state auditors with the American Federation of Teachers discovered that tax payments for the local’s membership had not been made by a previous treasurer.
That forensic examination led state union officials to conclude that Young had been embezzling, prompting the state organization to take over Local 4973’s financial management, according to the union’s annual filings with the U.S. Department of Labor.
“As soon as we discovered it, we reported it to the authorities” and removed Young from his union post, said Arthur Steinberg, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Pennsylvania.
Representatives from Local 4973 did not immediately return calls for comment. A Merakey spokesperson said Young is still on staff at the center, but declined to comment on his case.