Alleged Port Tampa Bay “ghost workers” who collect longshoreman pay have criminal records

Felix Santoyo (left), Felicia Santoyo (right)
Alleged ghost worker Jerry Reyes says he’s a victim of identity theft.

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Tampa resident Jerry Reyes keeps showing up on lists of so-called ghost workers at the heart of a longshoremen’s union corruption scandal on the docks of Port Tampa Bay. The allegation is that ghost workers like Reyes—people that legitimate union members have never heard of—are collecting paychecks for dock work they don’t perform.

But Reyes insists he works as a boxing promoter, has never set foot on the docks of Port Tampa Bay and hasn’t collected any longshoreman’s pay. Reyes tells 8 On Your Side someone has stolen his identity to cash in as part of the alleged ghost worker scam that cheats legitimate dock workers out of hours and benefits. “To tell you the truth somebody used my name,” Reyes told 8 On Your Side Wednesday. ”I never worked there.”

Reyes says the Social Security Administration approached him last year and asked if he worked on the docks. That’s when Reyes says he discovered someone else was using his name and social security number to collect a longshoreman’s pay. “That’s not good,” Reyes said.

Records show the Federal Department of Labor and the International Longshoremen’s Association are now investigating at least ten so-called ghost workers on the docks of Port Tampa Bay. Those investigations stem from allegations first raised by pension board trustee Evan Cotton seven months ago. “They’re being ghosted in place of legitimate longshoreman who are doing an honest day’s work,” Cotton said.

One of the alleged ghost workers who’s been making a lot on the docks is Felix Santoyo, a man with roots in South Florida and a long criminal record. According to union payroll records, Santoyo accumulated 2267 hours of longshoreman work over a four-year period loading and unloading cruise ships at Port Tampa Bay. Those records indicate Santoyo worked on three cruise ships during the same period on the same day for a total of 26 hours pay—an impossible feat. His logged hours and pay checks distributed by the union suddenly stopped after Cotton informed union members about what he discovered.

Longshoremen who’ve been on the docks for decades insist they’d never seen or heard of Santoyo until Cotton raised the alarm. Dock worker paychecks go through a multi-step process of timekeeping and approval before arriving at the Local 1402 union hall in a Fedex envelope for distribution by union officers to rank and file members.

Not even Local 1402 President James Harrell, who earns $106,000 a year to oversee local 1402 business matters knows Santoyo. “Nope,” Harrell told us during a terse interview Tuesday during a break in a hearing held by top ILA officials to investigate Harrell’s financial management. Harrell spent Tuesday in a closed-door hearing trying to deflect responsibility for any possible corruption or improprieties related to ghost workers.

Felix Santoyo’s sister, Felicia is also listed as an alleged ghost worker. No one recalls ever seeing her working the docks either. She has a Miami home address, and like her brother, a criminal record of drug arrests.

Both Felicia and Felix Santoyo along with at least one other alleged ghost worker show up in records as having personal or family connections to a man named Mike Ruff. Ruff was in charge of managing Ceres Terminals Incorporated also known as Ceres Global, the company that hires longshoremen to load and unload Port Tampa Bay cruise ships. A spokesman for Ceres, Zack Zemenick, says Ruff was fired months ago for violating company policy and that there could be no further comment due to an ongoing “external investigation.”

Local longshoreman who have competed for scant hours on the docks of Port Tampa Bay for years are now watching intently as they await an outcome to the ongoing ghost worker investigations triggered by Cotton’s revelations.

Longshoreman who’ve been on the job for decades complain they’ve  lost work hours and benefits to people they’ve never met or seen on the docks and insist justice on the union payroll is long overdue. “It need to be exposed the fraud and the corruption the mismanagement,” said Tampa longshoreman Danny Riley. “This hurts me as well as the rest of the men.”

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