Questionable Spending By Firefighter's Union

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Only WFTV obtained credit card statements that show the Orange County firefighter's union leadership may have been misusing the union credit cards for the last two years. There are thousands of dollars worth of charges at strip clubs, restaurants, liquor stores and cell phone companies.

Friday evening the union president admitted to WFTV, money was misspent on personal items, expensive dinners and strip clubs.

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President George Romano, Vice President Darrel McCrystal, and Chief Negotiator and Legislative liaison Bob Saunders, are active-duty firefighters paid by Orange County.

This all started when the president used a union credit card in front of another firefighter. The credit card statements show Lt. Bob Saunders spent union dollars at a strip club in Washington DC on services for him and five other firefighters.

That same day, he charged hundreds of dollars for lunch and dinner at restaurants across the street from the club. The president of the union was also there and told WFTV late Friday afternoon that they made a big mistake.

There's no criminal investigation yet, but the union board conducted an audit. For six years, union credit card bills averaged $55,000. Then last year they jumped to $94,000, and this year, they've already topped $60,000.

Romano makes $87,000 a year in his job and union roles. The other two leaders criticized in the audit are Darrel McCrystal and Bob Saunders.

They make $82,000 and $84,000 respectively, plus another $30,000 each for their union roles. But the audit shows the three-some used union cards at Best Buy, local and out-of-town liquor stores, local gas stations, and skyrocketing cell phone bills, even $200 spent on a political meeting with Orange County Commissioner Bill Segal, the candidate the union endorsed for mayor.

The union is funded by union dues, not public money.

George Romano, Union President, told WFTV part of the problem is both his personal and Union card look similar and he said some of the money was spent for legitimate reasons, including two conventions they hosted. He said the money that's been inappropriately used in being paid back.

Orange County Fire Chief Carl Plaugher released a statement about the admitted union misspending saying, "While firefighter's local 20-57 members, are employed by Orange County in various positions, "union" officials, play "no role" in the financial and organizational operations of Orange County Fire-Rescue. And fire-rescue has absolutely "no involvement" with the operations of firefighters local 20-57."