The executive director of California’s largest labor union resigned after the state Attorney General’s Office this month charged her and her husband with multiple counts of tax fraud, embezzlement, perjury and failure to pay unemployment insurance taxes.

The office filed its charges against SEIU California Executive Director Alma Hernández and her husband, Jose Moscoso, on Oct. 4 in Sacramento Superior Court.

Hernández, whose union represents over 700,000 workers across the state, had been in her position since 2016. She led the union’s push against recalling Gov. Gavin Newsom, with the organization donating more than $6 million to the campaign.

The union is also a major player in the Capitol, pushing for policies such as a $15 minimum wage. It represents local government employees, state workers, in-home caregivers, lecturers, janitors and health and care professionals, among others.

Hernández and Moscoso allegedly under-reported their income by $1.4 million over the span of five years, according to the complaint. Hernández also allegedly misused a political fundraising account to pay her husband for services he did not provide.

The charging documents include a white-collar crime enhancement that would require the couple to serve time in state prison, saying the couple’s alleged pattern of felony conduct resulted in a loss to the state Franchise Tax Board of more than $100,000.

“Working people deserve leaders they can depend on to help them achieve these goals at the bargaining table and through political advocacy, but also leaders they can trust,” Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. “When there is reason to believe trust has been broken and crimes have been committed, we have an ethical duty to investigate – we owe that to the people of California.”

The investigation that led to criminal charges began in 2019, when the Fair Political Practices Commission drew attention to an allegation that Hernandez as treasurer for a 2014 state senate campaign directed spending to her husband for campaign services he did not provide.

That tip led investigators from the Attorney General’s Office to dig into Moscoso and his company, according to court documents. Bonta’s office charged Hernández with two counts of grand theft and a count of perjury stemming from transactions amounting to $11,700 she authorized from the 2014 senate campaign committee to Moscoso, who was supposed to provide food and drink for 80 canvassers. He did not deliver the food, according to the complaint.

The money came from various sources, including SEIU California and other unions, according to campaign finance documents.

Moscoso was charged with failing to pay more than $16,000 in employment taxes for his business. He allegedly paid workers under the table, avoiding employment taxes and fees.

The couple also was charged with multiple counts of tax fraud for allegedly under-reporting their income by about from 2014 to 2018.

In a statement, Mari Hernández, a spokeswoman for the family, said Alma Hernández left her job to focus on “legal issues facing her family.”

“Those who know her know she has devoted her entire working life to the cause of justice and dignity for working people, especially those without power, privilege, or papers. She is not only a labor leader, she is a mom to her two kids, a wife, and a friend,” Mari Hernández said in her statement. “We are proud of her husband Jose who like countless immigrants in California has worked tirelessly to build a small business and future for their children. In the end we know their family will clear their name and they both will return to raising their children and fighting for the future of our family and community.”


California Director of Government Relations Tia Orr will step in to lead the union as its interim executive director, according to a statement from Bob Schoonover, executive director of SEIU Local 721 and president of SEIU California State Council.

“We are deeply concerned about the allegations against Alma Hernández. We have accepted Ms. Hernández’s resignation, and we have cooperated fully with authorities on this matter and will continue to do so,” Schoonover said in a statement. “Any misuse of funds is unacceptable, and we are committed to doubling down on our efforts to ensure that all officers and staff adhere to the highest level of ethical and financial conduct.”

While calling the charges “concerning,” California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski urged caution and praised Hernández’s work.

“While I can’t speak directly to the charges in this case without all the facts, I can attest to Alma’s unwavering commitment to the low-wage workers she’s spent her life defending,” Pulaski said in a statement. Leaders and officials in the state’s labor movement in their statements praised Orr, saying California’s largest union will “not miss a beat.”

“I know and have worked closely with @TiaOrr1111. She’s a dedicated advocate for workers & I have no doubt she has hit the ground running as the new SEIU State Council Interim Executive Director,” Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, wrote on Twitter.


Critics of labor’s power in California’s Capitol pounced on the charges.

“You have the highest echelons of SEIU… committing fraud and other crimes and who knows what else is going on?,” said Timothy Snowball, California litigator for the Freedom Foundation which has called for public sector workers to leave their unions.

“If SEIU California’s executive director’s action is any indication, they’re not only interested in advancing their political agenda but to line up their own pockets.”

The charges “provide fuel” to those who oppose unions, Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Labor Federation, said in a statement.

“I’d also add that every union leader in CA takes the responsibility of being a good steward of members’ funds very seriously,” Smith said. “The way we fight back against politically motivated attacks is by continuing to show what a strong, unified labor movement accomplishes for working people.”


*By Jeong Park, Sacramento Bee:*

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