July 23, 2015
Audit and financial investigation: words guaranteed to strike fear and dread in the hearts of union officials and administrators; especially coming from the United States Department of Labor. But thanks to Steven Biller, the union clients of Pitta & Giblin LLP know that it doesn’t have to be that way.
With 34 years of experience as a senior investigator in the New York City Office of the U.S. Department of Labor [DOL] Office of Labor Management Standards [OLMS], Biller has, for nearly a decade, provided an unparalleled level of insight and expertise as well as a reassuring presence for Pitta & Giblin LLP clients faced with an OLMS audit or financial investigation.
It all came about from a chance phone call from Vincent Pitta in August of 2006.
During his long tenure with the DOL, Biller handled hundreds of routine, as well as some of the most complicated, OLMS investigations into the misappropriation of union funds and/or audits triggered by the failure of unions to report and maintain adequate and accurate records, as required by the Labor Management Reporting & Disclosure Act [LMRDA]. He also oversaw hundreds of regularly scheduled and special union officer elections and run-off elections.
Biller in fact, was so respected within OLMS, that he was designated to train both internal agency staff and any union officers and administrative staff who requested agency training in LMRDA compliance and procedures. In 2003, Biller was named “Employee of the Year” by OLMS for his outstanding work, expertise, and quality of technical assistance he provided to both agency staff and labor union officers and their staff within New York City.
So, when Vincent Pitta, in behalf of a union client, sought some guidance with an OLMS technical issue, it was no surprise he turned to Biller.
“I had been involved in numerous cases with Vinny Pitta over the course of my long career,” Biller says. “Despite the fact we not always agreed with each other’s positions, we always honestly and vigorously represented our respective clients and in doing so, we developed a rapport and a professional respect for each other. Coincidentally, the call came the day before I was going to retire from OLMS in 2006. In the course of our conversation he asked somewhat in jest, if I was ever going to leave government and get a real job? When I told him that the very next day, was going to be my last day in government service, he asked for my phone number. The rest, as they say, is history.”
By October of 2006, at the request of one of their law firm’s union clients, Biller was conducting a mock OLMS compliance audit of a client’s books and records, to insure that the union was in full compliance with the LMRDA.
“We now regularly conduct these mock OLMS audits for many of our union clients,” Biller explains. “While there is a cost attached to these audits, it is an effective preventative care measure that is a lot less costly in time and money than a union would spend to remediate problems found through an actual OLMS financial investigation or audit.”
Because he has been working as a consultant to the law firm, Biller is able to spend and enjoy quality time with Carolyn, his wife of nearly 40 years, and their two daughters and four grandchildren ranging in age from 2 to 10.
“The way things worked out, my affiliation with Pitta & Giblin LLP has provided me with the best of both worlds,” Biller says. “I can continue to work in my chosen field and yet I can also spend quality time with my family.”
The son of Moe Biller, who had risen from a postal clerk in Manhattan to serve as longtime national president of the American Postal Workers Union, Biller, indeed, has deep union roots.
“In fact, when I was hired by the DOL I was asked if I could be objective and thorough enough when auditing or investigating labor unions?,” Biller adds. “I told my supervisors that if a union is doing something intentionally wrong, it is a great disservice to the members and I would call it, as I saw it. In any event, I never had a problem after that.”
According to Biller, if a union was doing something intentionally wrong, he saw it as his job and the agency’s as well, to both expose and correct the practice. In cases where a union was unintentionally and mistakenly doing something wrong, he saw it as his job to educate the union’s officials as to how best to remediate the problem, and fully comply with the law going forward.
During his tenure, Steve often worked with the U.S. Attorneys for both the Eastern and Southern Districts. Based upon his experience, Biller is able to make clients feel comfortable by being able to explain, in layman’s terms, the Department of Labor audit and investigation process – and sometimes, upon a criminal referral by OLMS or its affiliate, the Office of Inspector General – the government’s prosecutorial standards and process. He is particularly adept at managing the expectations of the law firm’s clients during OLMS financial investigations and audits, as well as shepherding them through their document production responsibilities and inevitable agency review and “Q and A” process that follows.
“Having worked for the DOL for 34 years, I am able to explain to our clients not only the way the government goes about applying and enforcing the LMRDA, but to also provide them with insight into the policies, policy considerations, and the mentality of the agency,” Biller says.
And while not a boast, it was Biller who trained many of the investigators who work at the agency today. He admits that interfacing with his former colleagues involved in auditing or investigating a firm client was a little awkward at first. But as it turns out, it has never been an issue.
“The truth is that the OLMS investigators have a job to do, just like I do,” Biller says. “Their job is to apply and enforce the LMRDA, and my job and that of my law firm colleagues is to make sure our clients get a fair shake; and working with the very talented group of lawyers at Pitta & Giblin LLP, to make sure our clients get a fair hearing, should it come to that.”