Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I., Vt.) presidential campaign paid over $60,000 to the consulting firm of the campaign's senior adviser, Chuck Rocha, who embezzled thousands of dollars from the United Steelworkers Union between 2008 and 2009.
The Sanders campaign made three separate payments to Solidarity Strategies, which was founded by Rocha, between early April and late May. According to his most recent campaign filing, the Sanders campaign paid $61,330 to Rocha's firm for "consulting" and "political strategy."
Rocha was serving as the political director for the United Steelworkers Union when he embezzled funds between 2008 and 2009. In 2013, he pleaded guilty to one count of union embezzlement and also "acknowledged" he was responsible for the other 17 counts, Politico reported in 2016.
Rocha wasn't a merely a rank-and-file member of the Steelworkers back then: Political directors are the main points of contact between union leadership and policymakers, and they often have unfettered access to union coffers. Rocha managed a $30 million budget in his position, according to an online biography.
A federal grand jury indicted Rocha in 2012 on 18 counts arising from his alleged misuse of union funds. The indictment claimed Rocha misused a union credit card and voucher system, spending union money on golfing trips to Florida and Myrtle Beach, S.C., and personal trips to London and Orlando, among other expenditures.
Rocha, who was 43 years old when he was indicted, was sentenced to two years probation in 2013 and was ordered to pay a $2,000 fine for embezzling the union funds, according to the Department of Labor. Before he pled guilty, he was already ordered to pay $12,449 back to the United Steelworkers Union. Politico also noted his plea deal "barred him from working as an officer or agent at a labor organization until 2026."
When Politico reached out to Jeff Weaver, Sanders's campaign manager during the 2016 Democratic presidential campaign, to see if this criminal record concerned him, he said, "It's not politically sensitive at all."
"I'm not politically afraid of this story at all. Please, I'm asking you to print," Weaver continued, saying Rocha is "a dedicated person committed to fighting for working people in this country and for people of color."
Rocha rejoined the Sanders campaign back in February and his firm received $71,750 from the campaign during the first quarter of 2019 for event planning. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has also done business with Rocha's firm, paying them over $300,000 last year for "telemarketing" services.
After the Sanders campaign announced they reached a union contract with United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 back in May, VTDigger reported on Rocha boasting on Twitter about being on the "negotiating committee." In the same article they highlighted some of the same background information from the 2016 Politico article. Rocha did not respond to their requests for comment, but Weaver pushed back and accused VTDigger of "helping to uphold" systemic racism.
"Chuck Rocha made a mistake earlier in life and served his probation and paid his fine. He has since established a successful business that has served as a pipeline for young people of color into the world of politics," Weaver said. "Sadly, like too many others in our society, the Vermont Digger wants to brand people like Chuck Rocha for life — an attitude that disproportionately impacts black and brown people and poor people," Weaver said. "This is just another way systemic racism works. It’s disappointing that VTDigger is helping to uphold it."