SEATTLE — A train conductor from Marysville was sentenced to 1½ years in prison Tuesday for embezzling nearly a quarter million dollars from his labor union.
Gregory Normand, 58, fraudulently cut himself checks between 2010 and 2016, using his position as secretary-treasurer of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers, Local 324.
SMART LU 324 has about 170 members, most of whom work in the Everett area.
“A lot of trust was put into Mr. Normand to do his job and to do it right,” the union wrote in a statement to the court. “Mr. Normand’s betrayal went beyond just embezzling our organization’s monthly income and depleting what was in our savings. He did not pay our taxes, nor did he pay our bills regularly, for years, which created a massive and staggering debt burden.”
At the sentencing in U.S. District Court in Seattle, Judge Robert Lasnik followed the state’s recommendation, which falls on the shorter side of federal guidelines. Normand had faced a maximum of five years in prison. He also will have to pay back $217,000, which doesn’t include $31,000 that was already garnished from his wages.
Normand pleaded guilty to the crimes in July.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Hobbs said Normand “didn’t really miss a trick when it came to embezzlement.”
Normand would write a check to himself and then electronically transfer the same amount to his personal bank account, paying himself twice. He added thousands of dollars to other checks without permission. And he paid himself for time he took off work for union business, even though employment records reflected that he hadn’t taken any days off.
He may have taken even more, according to Hobbs. Union board meeting minutes showed members approving Normand to take out another $195,000. But as secretary, Normand was in charge of writing meeting minutes. Hobbs was unable to confirm if those disbursements were approved.
The $248,000 Normand stole doesn’t include normal payments, such as his monthly union stipend and time taken off work for union business. Until recently, he worked as a conductor with BNSF Railway, earning $80,000 to $100,000 per year.
When a 2016 audit by the state Department of Labor and Industries revealed the missing money, Normand responded with a letter stating his good intentions. He remarked the responsibility fell upon him as treasurer and said he didn’t want to hinder his “Brothers and Sisters.” He agreed to pay back $165,000 by putting a lien on his personal property and taking out a life insurance policy for the same amount, naming the union as the beneficiary.
He also wrote about his military career and how he received a volunteer of the year award for his role in the Lake Stevens North Lake Middle School music program.
Normand did not admit fault in the letter.
Likewise, he was defiant during a May 2017 interview with the Department of Labor and Industries.
When asked about checks made to himself, he said the union owed him the money because he’d worked hard for it, court papers say. He said he spent four hours a day, five days a week working on union business at his kitchen table.
He paid himself extra for that time, but didn’t ask for the board’s permission, because they wouldn’t have approved the request, according to documents. Instead, the board approved the checks to pay the IRS.
Those checks didn’t appear to make it to the IRS, though. Normand said he used his personal account, but he was unable to identify more than $300 in payments.
In a memorandum, Assistant Federal Public Defender Nancy Tenney said Normand shouldn’t go to jail because of his age, his anxiety and his status as a U.S. Navy veteran.
Tenney said Normand started seeing a psychiatrist around the time he started embezzling. The doctor, who has since lost his license, gave Normand a “cocktail of meds” that could affect decision-making, Tenney said.
Hobbs didn’t buy the argument.
“Nothing in the (psychiatric) evaluation suggests he didn’t know right from wrong,” he said.
This was not the first time Normand has been accused of stealing money, Hobbs continued. He was charged with first-degree theft for allegedly stealing from his home owners association in 2009. He was allowed to enter a diversion program instead of serving time behind bars in that case. By the time he started the rehabilitation program, Normand was already embezzling from the union.
Lasnik said he regularly imprisons people who steal money because they live in poverty and have no options.
“If I were to have a different standard for a white, middle-class man who stole a quarter-million dollars … that really wouldn’t be fair,” he said.
Normand told the judge he was sorry for what he did. He said he couldn’t even look at himself in the mirror.
Lasnik asked Normand what he did with the money.
“Life,” Normand said. He said he hasn’t kept any of it, and that he lives paycheck to paycheck.
Other union members said they felt betrayed by Normand. Many considered him a trusted friend and coworker.
“He literally took money right out of the pockets of the working families of our members,” the union wrote in a statement.