Every spring, Washington Teachers' Union President Barbara A. Bullock would send away her winter clothes for storage at Parkway Custom Dry Cleaning in Chevy Chase. There were so many -- jackets, suits, dresses, fine leathers and fabrics -- that the business sent a stretch Chevy van to her one-bedroom condo to haul them away, and three employees worked full time for three days pressing the wardrobe.
Of the more than 200 clients whose items are in winter storage -- including members of Congress, chief executives and athletes -- none had more than Bullock, said the store's owner, Jon Simon. Last season's inventory: 300 pieces. "She was by far and away the biggest customer," Simon said.
Bullock's dealings with the dry cleaner are among scores of transactions now under scrutiny by the FBI and other agencies investigating the alleged misuse of union dues collected from teachers in D.C. public schools. According to papers filed by the FBI in U.S. District Court on Thursday, Bullock spent more than $25,000 at Parkway Custom Dry Cleaning, a fraction of the more than $2 million in union money allegedly diverted by Bullock and others for personal use.
Authorities raided the homes and offices of Bullock and two other top union officials -- Gwendolyn M. Hemphill, Bullock's former assistant and the former campaign co-chairman for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), and former union treasurer James O. Baxter II -- looking for goods that were allegedly purchased with union funds. They also searched the houses of relatives of Bullock and Hemphill.
No charges have been filed in the case, and authorities said they are still investigating. The FBI was compiling a list of everything that was seized and will make it public in U.S. District Court early next week. One source familiar with the probe said that authorities were moving methodically and that charges are not imminent. That source said investigators could try to win cooperation from some of those involved in an effort to put together a fuller picture of what happened.
Federal prosecutors declined to comment. But a law enforcement source said that prosecutors typically do not seek charges in federal white-collar criminal investigations until grand juries complete investigations -- a time-consuming process -- unless authorities believe that suspects might flee.
Bullock, who has not returned phone calls, appears to be at the center of the alleged spending spree. She, Hemphill and Baxter resigned from the 5,000-member union this fall as the FBI, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Department of Labor and D.C. inspector general's office joined forces in a review of spending during most of Bullock's eight-year tenure. According to an FBI affidavit filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday, Bullock made unauthorized personal charges for goods and services worth more than $1 million since 1995.
Some of Bullock's associates said they never thought about whether the union president could afford her vast wardrobe.
"I didn't see anything she wore that was beyond anyone's imagination," said Esther S. Hankerson, who was Bullock's general vice president and now serves as the interim president of the union. "Evidently, I didn't know fabric. . . . I looked at Miss Bullock as being a single person living in a one-bedroom apartment."
Myong Lim, who owns a small custom clothing shop outside Baltimore, said Bullock had been a regular customer for several years, and the FBI affidavit said Bullock spent $500,000 in union money at the store.
Lim said Bullock bought overcoats, suits and a dress for her niece's wedding. Bullock sometimes showed up in the shop and other times called in orders to be made from the custom pattern that Lim maintained.
"I keep doing whatever she asked me," Lim said. "If I had to stay 24 hours in my store to get it done, I did to make sure she got what she wanted."
But Lim said that Bullock has nearly destroyed her business by failing to pay $80,000 worth of bills. Lim said she has had to lay off several of her employees and take out a loan to cover the losses. She said that she pleaded with Bullock to pay her and that Bullock gave her a check that bounced.
In Atlanta, Bullock did business for the past four or five years by phone with Friedman's Shoes, where she spent $11,000 in union money, the FBI affidavit said.
Friedman's, which specializes in large sizes, sold Bullock a number of alligator skin shoes, including two pairs of loafers that cost more than $600 each, said Dean Teilhaber, a manager. "I've known her a long time. It's very shocking," Teilhaber said of the allegations.
Bullock and others under investigation also used teachers' union funds to purchase art from a Northwest Washington gallery called Ramee, the affidavit said. Bullock is accused of spending $9,000 in union money there.
A woman who answered the phone at the gallery yesterday said the artwork was purchased for the union headquarters. "We decorated the D.C. teachers' union when they renovated, and we decorated it with art," said the woman, who identified herself as the owner but refused to give her name. "That's all I have to say."
The FBI's affidavit said the K Street NW union offices are not lavishly furnished.
"With the exception of a few pieces of artwork and furnishings, few of the above-described purchases were observed within WTU's office space," said the affidavit, signed by FBI special agent Katherine L. Andrews.
Teachers continued to express shock at the developments yesterday, with some calling for the union's executive committee, including Hankerson, to resign.
"You can't steal people's money and then not be responsible," said Nathan Saunders, a teacher at Anacostia Senior High in Southeast. "It's disgusting and it's outlandish and it is totally contrary. Classroom teachers don't dream of those things. . . . If we had $2 million, we would probably get some more books -- paper in schools, copiers, things for children."
Hankerson said she learned of financial problems at a conference of the parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, over the summer.
She said she was told that the Washington Teachers' Union had fallen behind in making payments to the AFT and asked officials from the parent union to review the local union's books. That led to the ongoing investigation, she said.
"I trusted her," Hankerson said of Bullock. "I trusted Mrs. Hemphill to do the job they had to do. I did not know. I think the executive board has acted responsibly. I went straight to the American Federation of Teachers for what I perceived to be a problem."
Under federation rules, the Washington Teachers' Union was supposed to conduct an internal audit every two years. The last time it did so was in 1995, federation spokesman Alex Wohl has said. He said the federation had repeatedly asked for an audit in recent years.
Staff writers Allan Lengel and Arthur Santana contributed to this report.