On April 6, shortly after Lopez was fired, U.S. Department of Labor investigators showed up at the Local 7 headquarters in Wheat Ridge and began an extensive audit of the union's 2008 finances. Union secretary-treasurer Stan Kania says the federal officials told him that someone had filed a complaint about the organization's spending.

The audit lasted two months and ended with no findings of misuse of money or any other questionable dealings, Kania says. Instead, the department made a few minor bookkeeping suggestions. "Their parting words to me were, 'This is a big union, the biggest union we've ever audited. You're doing a bang-up job,'" Kania adds.

The U.S. Department of Labor wouldn't confirm or deny the existence of an investigation, let alone its length or findings.

Kim Cordova will lead UFCW Local 7 come January 1.
Kim Cordova will lead UFCW Local 7 come January 1.
Crisanta Duran is challenging the recent Local 7 election
Crisanta Duran is challenging the recent Local 7 election

With Lopez gone, Duran turned to his own secretary, Irene Goodell, to help E3 find and log his missing receipts. But he didn't like the way she handled the situation either, Goodell says. Duran fired Goodell in April, after Cordova had represented her as well. Goodell also plans to sue for wrongful termination.

"They are true union members," Goodell says of Cordova and incoming secretary-treasurer Cindy Lucero, a former union rep who declined to be interviewed for this story. "They take their jobs to heart. They wouldn't be afraid they would be next on the firing line — which is exactly what happened."

Cordova says Duran suspended her the same day he fired Goodell. She eventually came back to work, but on May 28, union director Randy Rawlings fired her, too, Cordova says. Five days later, she was back at Safeway as a bakery clerk — something she hadn't done in sixteen years — working for $7.79 an hour, a fraction of the $81,443 she made in 2008 as a union representative. "I needed a job," she says. "I have a house payment."

Crisanta Duran, acting as a spokeswoman for the family, says Local 7 can't comment on the firings – or the meetings that preceded them – without releases from the former employees. So far, none have signed. "All I can say is that every single allegation that I've heard them make about the terminations is absolutely false," she adds.

Around the same time, someone made a flier titled "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH" and began circulating it around grocery-store parking lots and tacking it to break-room bulletin boards. The flier attacked E3 for having "close to $7,000 of charges to the Union card that were not documented," including "personal charges for alcohol, Starbucks drinks, Denver Bronco tickets, hotel rooms at $300 a night."

It also alleged that Crisanta went to Disneyland and Mexico on the union's dime and that her father paid for a Puerto Rican vacation for his wife and grandson with Local 7's money — accusations the Durans have since denied.

"Remember this is your Union, not the Duran's," the flier said. It encouraged members to complain to international UFCW union heads.

Cordova says she had nothing to do with the flier – or with an anonymously authored website called www.VoteErnieOut.com, which posted copies of some of E3's receipts. But in mid-July, the Durans sued Cordova and two other union members — a King Soopers checker and a Safeway meat-cutter — for slander and libel.

"The defendants, acting individually and jointly, have published, or have caused the publication of, false and defamatory statements concerning the conduct of Ernest Duran, Jr., Crisanta Duran and Ernest Duran III as officers and representatives of Local 7," the lawsuit reads. It gives examples from the flier and accuses Cordova and the others of making "defamatory oral statements," including that Duran used his Local 7 credit card for personal expenses and embezzled money from the union's strike fund.

The lawsuit was paid for with union money, a move approved by Local 7's executive board and then seconded by union members, who voted at their monthly meetings to okay the board's meeting minutes — and therefore their actions. But approved or not, Cordova thought it was sneaky and wrong.

(The lawsuit has since been dropped. Crisanta Duran says union leaders decided to drop it in a bid to bury the hatchet and "keep people united.")

"At that point, I said, 'I'm running for president,'" Cordova says. She and her slate of nineteen candidates ran a hard-edged campaign. They made nepotism a major issue, pointing out that Duran and his kids each made six-figure salaries. She also talked about E3's receipts, highlighting a $216 Red Lobster dinner for four, $200 Broncos tickets and a $192 bar tab for rojotinis and other drinks at the restaurant Cuba Cuba.

"We took on this family," Cordova says, "and said, 'This is wrong.'"

The Durans fought back, saying Cordova didn't have the education or experience to run the union. (Duran graduated from law school; Cordova never attended college.) Duran was running for a sixth and final three-year term as president (he claimed in campaign literature that he wouldn't run again in 2012), while Crisanta was running for secretary-treasurer.

Kania, who plans to retire as secretary-treasurer this month, endorsed the Durans. In campaign literature, he's quoted as saying, "Although Ernie may never retire, (Crisanta) is the only person that will be able to take Ernie's place in the long run."

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