Ex-Union Boss Browne Out Of Prison


Former union strongman Walter “Buster Browne is out of the Big House.

Browne has been transferred from federal prison to community control in Miami, pending a May 4 release date.

Community control oversees halfway houses and the program is designed to integrate an inmate back into society.  It is a stop many inmates make before getting out for good.

Once a major Broward political power as the leader of the 7,000-member Federation of Public and Private Employees, Browne was convicted in June 2004 of misusing union money.

He was sentenced to 70 months in the federal pen for racketeering. He also got  three years’ probation and a $725 fine. 

“Buster Browne was surely one of the most colorful political figures I ever knew.  I first met him when he was starting out as an organizer and I was starting out as a reporter in the 1970s.

His father was Charles “Chuckie Browne, a tough New York City waterfront union veteran.  Buster was a chip off the old block and he cultivated the image.

He played a bare knuckles union thug, masquerading as a mobster to scare and intimidate.  In reality, he was a Coral Springs suburban parent whose day job just happened to be the head of a big union.

Browne was perfect for his chosen role.  

He reminded me of a walking refrigerator with more than 250 pounds packed onto a 6-foot 2-inch frame. He wore his hair colored dead black and slicked back.  His speech was tinged with an accent straight from Noo Yawk liberally peppered with obscenities.

Once I was in a bar on East Las Olas with a bunch of media types.  Browne was sitting next to me along with one of his union flunkies.

I heard pieces of Browne’s conversation. At one point he raised his voice in a very theatric manner and snarled, “Then tell him I’ll throw him in a garbage compactor.

Then he turned to me and cracked a smile.  He got up real slow with his friend, throw some money down and walked out. I always thought he was putting on The Walter Browne Show for me and my media buddies.

But it was all a show.  He pretended to be a heavy as a negotiating tool, as a way to get an edge so he could seal the deal.   And as a way to keep control of an often unruly blue-collar union.

The reality was very different.

As Browne’s friend and Browardbeat.com’s pollster Jim Kane said, “Inside, Walter is a pussycat.”

He was a pussycat with thousands in contributions,  union endorsements and legions of members in his pocket.

At one time, Browne’s union represented thousands of Broward government employees — jailers, school bus drivers, court clerks, city hall secretaries and clerks,  janitors and dockworker.

With influence over all those votes, Browne had easy access to the county commission, the School Board, at most city halls and even Tallahassee. I saw Browne at almost every fund raiser and political event.

Despite all this political clout, or maybe because of it, Browne drew the attention of the Feds for years.  They didn’t like his family heritage or his Mafia manners.   They were out to get him.not that he didn’t give them a reason. 

In 1992 he was accused of hiding more than $80,000 he got to lobby for a prison health company.  A judge tossed the case out.

In 1996, Browne was charged with rigging a union election.  He pled to mail tampering and got two years probation.

Knowing that the Feds were looking over his shoulders at all time, Browne should have stayed clean.  He didn’t.

The Feds finally got him for good in 2004.

2 Responses to “Ex-Union Boss Browne Out Of Prison”

  1. T. R. says:

    Walter was a victim of over-zealous federal agents who should have been looking at real corruption in this county. We now realize the real crooks are in office, not reprsenting the employees.

  2. Unions Lobbyists and Crime says:

    Union lobbyists and crime go together like peanut butter and jelly. Natural fits. It has been this way forever. Long ago, instead of staying on a righteous path, unions allowed themselves to become criminally involved with organized crime and lost their sense of ethics.

    Government is the last stronghold of this corrupt union movement, the last place where they can still use political muscle to influence the weak elected officials into spending tax dollars lavishly on union member salaries and pensions.

    Unions don’t even care what happens in government, they care not about public policy, they don’t care what quality an offiial brings into office.

    The litmus test for union endorsement is a simple one: They pick the ones they think can win over which they can exert the most control. That’s the litmus test.

    And then, the union leaders have the arrogance to cut special little deals for themselves. Trips, junkets, they just love trips and junkets, wrist watches and pay offs. No show jobs and patronage. Bribes and blue walls of silence. This is the ugly underbelly of organized labor in government. Guys like Browne were masters at it.