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Driver's Record

A TriMet driver's criminal past becomes an issue in a union election—and embarrasses the transit agency.

They blame each other for the financial troubles ailing the agency. TriMet points to  an overly generous contract with expensive benefits that end up forcing the agency to cut service and increase fares.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 has long argued it's TriMet's leaders who have mismanaged the agency's finances. 

But TriMet and ATU share another problem neither want to discuss: a union leader and bus driver with a troubled past.

Daniel Lee Martin, 51, has driven a bus for TriMet for the past 16 years and earns $51,677 annually. Union members elected Martin three years ago to a seat on ATU's executive board. Now, Martin is seeking a promotion: He's running in the current union election for the No. 2 position, behind ATU president Bruce Hansen.

Martin also has a criminal record. In 2006, he pleaded guilty to defrauding the federal government out of nearly $78,000 in disability payments. And 30 years ago, he pleaded guilty to second-degree sex abuse after he admitting having sex with a 15-year-old girl. Court records say Martin was 21 at the time.

"I've made mistakes," Martin tells WW. "I'm a changed person."

Martin says his past has surfaced only because of the bitterly contested union election scheduled June 23.

One of the state's biggest unions, ATU has been locked in a power struggle. The group that ran the union for decades lost the presidency in 2012. The old guard is now aggressively seeking to regain control. Martin is part of the group standing in the way.

Martin says his record has never been an issue until this election, and that he's now being targeted by supporters of  former ATU president Jon Hunt, who is running against Martin for union vice president. "Look at the timing," Martin says. "Three weeks ago, no one gave a shit about me."

Hansen, the current ATU president, declined to comment on Martin's criminal record involving fraud. "We don't investigate our members," Hansen tells WW. "That's it—the employer [TriMet] goes through a criminal background check when they hire."

Martin says TriMet officials have long been aware of his criminal history. TriMet officials have spent the past few days avoiding WW's questions about him.

WW asked TriMet spokeswoman Roberta Altstadt to confirm that Martin worked for the agency. She refused to do so. "The agency does not verify an individual's employment," Altstadt said.

Altstadt finally confirmed Martin's employment only after WW threatened to appeal to the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, which can order a government agency to release public information.

"We are carefully investigating this matter internally," Altstadt added in a statement to WW. "We have no further comment at this time."

TriMet moves more than 335,000 riders a day. The regional agency has faced major budget and management challenges, and was blasted in a scathing 2014 state audit report released by then-Secretary of State Kate Brown. The audit pointed to TriMet's antagonistic relationship with ATU as a reason for the agency's dysfunction.

Critics and TriMet officials have both argued that the union's obstinacy is responsible for a large portion of the agency's financial woes. Brutal contract fights have taken place over the years, and ATU has frequently emerged victorious. Under longtime union leader Ron Heintzman, the union won comprehensive health care benefits for its retirees in 1994.

TriMet's financial fortunes, meanwhile, are looking up. The agency gets 54 percent of its revenues from payroll taxes, which increase as the economy improves. (Another 22 percent of revenues come from fares.) 

The union represents about 3,800 transit workers in at least 15 transit agencies across the state. About 2,100 members work for TriMet.

The 2012 ATU election saw Hansen defeat Heintzman, who had served five terms as president, from 1988 to 2002. 

Jon Hunt, a Heintzman loyalist, served as president from 2002 to 2012. Hunt didn't run again after a conviction for driving while intoxicated. Martin is now taking on Hunt for the post as the union's second in command. 

Martin was born Daniel Lee Overby in 1963. He attended Sunset High School in Beaverton. In August 1985, the Tillamook County Sheriff's office arrested him for third-degree rape after he had sex with an underage girl. He pleaded guilty to second-degree sex abuse, a misdemeanor, and served three years' probation.

Martin says he eventually married the girl and divorced her years later. (WW could find no record of the divorce case.)

He says a mistake he made 30 years ago has had no effect on his job performance at TriMet, and that he poses no risk to the safety of passengers. Martin says he was hired at a time when TriMet did not conduct routine criminal background checks, and that the agency was aware of his record.

"I could have expunged my record," Martin says. "I could have hidden that I screwed up in my life. I didn't do it."

Court records show he changed his name from Overby to Martin in 1993.

Federal court records show Martin started receiving Social Security disability payments in 1990 after suffering a spinal injury, and continued receiving them off and on for several years.

He went to work as a bus driver for TriMet in 1998 but continued to collect federal disability payments for at least three years while employed by the agency. In 2003, court records show, Social Security investigators tipped off by the Internal Revenue Service caught up with Martin.

The feds charged Martin with theft of government property, and in June 2006 he pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to serve six months of home detention and three years' probation. He also agreed to pay back the money. 

"I owed it, and I owned it," he says. "I regret it. Wholeheartedly, I regret it."

Martin says the transit agency is aware of his federal conviction as well. "This is nothing new to TriMet," he says.

Martin says that, even though the agency is aware of his past, he fears TriMet will try to use the information to fire him and undermine the union. He also says he has a strong record as a driver: only 10 complaints in 15 years, and he has never been disciplined.

"I've worked every day to make myself such a better person and overcome the stupid things I've done in my life," Martin says. "I don't think this should disqualify me from working at TriMet or trying to help my union.”