January 31, 2013
By Kenneth Miller
After being ousted as president of one of the nation’s most powerful and influential labor unions three years ago, a disgraced Tyrone Freeman was dealt a federal conviction this week that could land him in prison for the rest of his life.
Freeman, 43, who became the youngest leader in the storied history of the Services Employees International Union (SEIU) was convicted on 14 of 15 federal charges which included stealing tens of thousands of dollars and faces an April sentencing that could land him in prison for a maximum term of 180 years.
When reached by telephone on Tuesday (Jan. 29), a subdued Freeman said that he was going to pick up his children ages five and ten and would begin a phase of soliciting character letters for his final court date.
He began working for the union at the tender age of 21 as executive director of SEIU Local 1985 in 1994 in Atlanta, GA, and by 1996 was elected to the International Executive Board making him the youngest leader in the then 90-year history of the SEIU.
Freeman then was moved to Los Angeles where he became vice president of SEIU International and subsequently president for one of the largest locals in the country SEIU 434B.
During his tenure he led drives in the south and here locally where the political culture for a young African American demanded creative organizing.
He earned his final post at the new SEIU 6434-United Long Term Health care Workers Union as dual presidency which yielded him power and influence over 190,000 homecare workers ultimately became his last.
Three years after gaining such power, a local newspaper revealed in explosive articles that he had abused it in 2008, igniting a four year federal investigation that culminated in a 10-day trial and a two and a half day jury deliberation, which resulted in his current fate.
According to published reports, Freeman was among the highest paid union leaders in the nation commanding an annual salary of $200,000, but was convicted on tax counts that he failed to report $63,000 in income in 2006 and 2007.
Last August he was indicted on charges that he embezzled from the statewide local, using some of the stolen money to pay for a lavish Hawaiian wedding. Other charges included violation of tax laws and giving false information to a mortgage lender.
Freeman hired his wife Pilar Planells as a consultant paying her more than $540,000. She pleaded guilty to a tax charge.
The three investigation agencies, the U.S. Department of Labor, FBI and Internal Revenue Service painted a picture of Freeman as a man who funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars from his members dues and money from a related charity to his relatives, and also Four Seasons Resort golf tournaments and on a membership at an exclusive Beverly Hills cigar club.
In 1996 Time magazine honored Freeman as a leader who was revitalizing the American Labor Movement. In 2003 he received The John F. Kennedy “Profiles in Courage” Award and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference “Drum Major Award.”
Freeman told the newspaper that he does not know of his ultimate fate and that he would like for people to remember him for the many good deeds that he has done.