September trial date set in RICO lawsuit against Sizemore's OTU
A trial date of Sept. 9 has been set for civil lawsuits filed last summer in Multnomah County by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)-Oregon and the Oregon Education Association against Oregon Taxpayers United (OTU).
The unions are alleging fraud, racketeering and falsifying tax returns in OTU's collection of signatures for several anti-union initiative petitions that appeared on the ballot in November 1998 and 2000. Bill Sizemore is executive director of OTU. His attorney is Gregory Byrne, a former candidate for Oregon Supreme Court justice.
The lawsuits were filed separately, but have been consolidated by Circuit Court Judge Jerome LeBarre. The labor organizations are seeking more than $2.5 million in damages.
They allege that OTU, its education foundation, and its political action committee violated the Oregon Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) by fraudulently gathering signatures for sponsorship of Measurers 91, 92 and 98 from the 2000 general election, and Measure 59 from the 1998 general election. Three of the four measures were attacks on organized labor and attempted to weaken its participation in politics. All of them were rejected by Oregon voters.
OTU is also accused of using tax -deductible donations from its education foundation to pay for political campaigns promoting its ballot measures as well as for paying petitioners to collect signatures to get the measures on the ballot.
Last year a former OTU employee was convicted of forging signatures on initiative petitions, and earlier this year two contract employees of Sizemore's signature-gathering business were arrested for election fraud. The men allegedly used a "bait-and-switch" tactic to get Oregonians to sign initiatives they did not know they were signing. Some of the initiatives they carried were anti-union "paycheck deception" measures similar to those on the ballot in 1998 and 2000. One in particular, Initiative 18, is a rewrite of Measure 92.
Last month, Sizemore issued a press release stating he had between 110,000 and 120,000 signatures for I-18, which is more than enough to qualify for the November ballot. He said he won't turn them in to the secretary of state for several weeks. "We think he's bluffing," said Oregon AFL-CIO President Tim Nesbitt. "But, if he has the signatures, he should turn them in. And he should be willing to vouch for their legitimacy.˜From what we've seen, Sizemore's signature gatherers are the worst violators of our election laws.˜So Sizemore better make sure he doesn't turn in any forged or stolen signatures."
AFT-Oregon attorney Gene Mechanic of the law firm Goldberg, Mechanic Stuart & Gibson told the Northwest Labor Press that the defendant has filed numerous motions to dismiss the lawsuit and is refusing to produce financial and other records during discovery. The next court hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, March 26.
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