An officer of the MTA bus drivers' union pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court to embezzling more than $25,000 from the local's sick benefits fund.
Alfred W. Thornton Jr., recording secretary of Local 1300, Amalgamated Transit Union, since 1980, acknowledged that he cashed 185 checks from the union fund from January 1985 to September 1986 and kept the cash.
Thornton, who denied that other union officials had knowledge of the scheme, faces a potential maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. In addition, federal law bars him from holding union office, and he may be ordered to make restitution.
Judge Norman P. Ramsey accepted the plea in U.S. District Court in Baltimore and set sentencing for Sept. 12. Thornton, 54, is a base secretary for the state Mass Transit Administration, where he has worked more than 30 years.
The prosecution stemmed from an ongoing federal investigation into finances of Local 1300, which represents about 2,300 MTA employees, that was prompted by a civil suit brought by union members in 1986. That lawsuit, settled last year, forced the release of the local's financial records to the members, who gave the information to the FBI.
The members have been concerned about payments from a union entertainment fund, compensation and expenses of officers, and a building fund established to finance the new offices of the local on West 25th Street. The local's sick benefits fund was set up to pay $3 a day to ill members who had used up all their sick leave days with MTA but were unable to return to work.
According to a statement read to the court by Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter M. Semel, Thornton signed sick benefits checks for members who were not sick and then cashed them by signing their names.