by Morin Sincere
Originally published in the January 1989 issue of Cyclops USA
The United States Cycling
Federation has a longer history of voting fraud than most
USCF grew out of a regional cycling association based in the New York City/Northern New Jersey area and its first board of directors came exclusively from that region. Somehow, that initial regional dominance became part of the fabric of the organization. A self-perpetuating cabal formed and maintained control for over 60 years through combination of political conspiracy and voting fraud. Voting fraud was apparently brought under control in the mid-’70s and the influence of the cabal has since diminished, but it is still quite strong. This is an overview of the political history of the organization and some of the political corruption that has become visible.
In 1912, a group of cycling clubs in the New York City-New Jersey area that were affiliated with National Cycling Association (NCA) decided to form a local association to coordinate cycling activities in their area. The NCA was mainly concerned with the economic success of board tracks and generally neglected road racing. The new association organized a number of road time trial events for their members over the next eight years. They adopted the rather awkward name of “Inter-Club Amateur Cycle Road Racing League.”
As time passed, the members of the League found that their interests continued to diverge from those of the track owners who controlled the NCA. In 1920, just after World War I and at the beginning of the alcoholic binge called “Prohibition,” the members of the League raised most of the funds needed to finance the Olympic cycling team but had to defer to the NCA in the final selection of riders. They later discovered that some of the “amateurs” on the Olympic team were competing on NCA tracks for a percentage of the gate, which made them technically professionals.
The clubs in
the League decided to form a more ambitious cycling organization and
incorporated it in the State of
The ABL cabal consolidated its power after World War II as the sport changed in character. They rotated the presidency among cabal members, as they always had, with some taking as many as three turns and thirteen years at the front. The cabal used straightforward political conspiracies to maintain control at first, but when participants from other parts of the country began to press for representation, they resorted to the shadier practice of creating “paper clubs.” These were mythical racing organizations whose sole function was to provide the votes needed to elect the “right” directors and provide proxies for use in the Annual Meeting.
The only thing that it took to form a racing club was a little money. In the early period, club membership in the ABL cost just $5 per year and clubs got to vote whether or not they had any riders, so it was not too expensive to buy as many votes as were needed. Later, clubs had to have at least five riders in order to be able to vote, but since rider licenses cost just 50 cents, ambitious people often bought licenses for every member of their family, which they then registered as a club. More imaginative fixers bought licenses for nonexistent people and organized them into clubs. Thus, the ABL regulations effectively condoned buying votes.
Directors were elected at large,
rather than on a geographical basis as they are now, and it somehow turned out
that people from outside the cabal seldom got elected. From 1920 to 1960 the cabal held about 65% of
all positions on the Board of Directors. A group in the
was an Olympic year and the Olympic trials that year were screwed up, as usual,
as a result of political machinations and inept administration. A
The cabal chief, Otto Eisele, undertook a strategic negotiation with Ed Lynch. He offered to amend the ABL Constitution to provide for election on a geographic basis if they would not try for a complete overthrow. An agreement was reached and the country was subsequently divided into three sections, East, Central, and West, each with an equal number of Directors. Thus, the only substantial electoral reform in the history of the ABL/USCF was brought about by out-cheating the competition.
new Directors from
While the methods used by Ed Lynch and his colleagues were ethically rotten, the net result did benefit the sport by breaking the stanglehold of the cabal. This victory was not without cost, however. Lynch’s single minded devotion to this project cost him his business and his marriage. He did get a seat on the Board, however.
would think that geographic diversification would have shifted the balance of
power, but it didn’t. There was little political continuity in the Central
Section and none in the West. In order
to give the appearance of sharing power, the presidency was occasionally
awarded to directors who were not from
a tribute to the political savvy of three generations of
Paper cycling clubs and voting fraud continued to be practiced as needed to control the ABL power structure, but these practices became more hazardous after rider and club records were computerized. Being unfamiliar with computer technology, members of the cabal somehow overlooked their increased vulnerability to the new technology. In 1975, Ernie Seubert was nearing the end of his four year term as ABL president. He had served on the Board for 20 years by that time, but despite his important responsibilities within ABL, he still was not the cabal chief, Otto Eisele still ran the organization with an iron first.
faced another Board election shortly. He
knew that the cabal was still manufacturing paper clubs, but he was not sure
that enough of the votes would come his way.
He saw an opportunity to buy a little “insurance” by diddling fellow
cabal members and he went for it. This
opportunity arose out of a 1974 project that put rider registrations on a
computer, which was initiated by
Holder was a new ABL Director who lived near Nicholson. Ernie Seubert
quietly contacted Holder and suggested that he take a close look at recent club
registrations in the
1. 285 individuals were issued licenses in
2. Of these, 4.7% were unattached (not members of a bike club). By comparison, 25% of the registrations prior to September 15 were unattached, and so did not contribute to club voting strengths.
3. Most of the 285 riders had consecutive license numbers for members of each club. For example, riders with license numbers 530 through 566 were all registered as members of the Midtown Cycle Club. This appeared to be much too systematic, given that rider licensing usually occurs at random intervals.
4. Of these 285 riders, 266 were registered as members of
10 clubs in
5. Of these 10 clubs, all 10 had full voting strength for the coming elections.
6. Three of these 10 clubs did not join the ABL until after
The situation seemed to warrant further investigation, so Holder and Nicholson undertook an audit by sending questionnaires to selected late licensees asking them whether they had applied for a 1974 ABL license and which club they belonged to, if any. The responses revealed the following.
(a) A number of riders who had held ABL licenses in earlier years but had not applied for one in 1974 were nevertheless issued licenses (which they didn’t receive) and were assigned to the mystery clubs.
(b) People who had never been ABL licensees were issued 1974 licenses and assigned to clubs without their knowledge.
(c) Riders who were previously licensed in
(d) Many riders were issued two or more licenses in
(e) Individuals who joined the ABL as unattached in 1974 were somehow assigned to clubs in the district representative’s file and in the computer files.
The documentation pointed clearly to the person who maintained the district representative’s files, namely the district representative, Peter Senia, who also happened to be a member of the Board of Directors and was a member of the cabal.
Holder brought a report of the
findings to the next Board of Director’s meeting in April 1975 and Ernie Seubert wrote a cover letter decrying the exposed
corruption and remarking that “Paper clubs have existed in the past and they
have usually been identified with the Mid-West area, with the states of
As it turned out, the Board of Directors did not have to act. Senia heard about what they had on him and resigned both as district rep and as director in order to avoid an investigation. In doing so, he probably saved some other members of his group from embarrassment. None of the others had signed any of the paperwork, so they were not directly implicated, though some of the handwriting on spurious applications looked a lot like that of Otto Eisele.
After this incident, Eisele, who was a life member of the USCF Board, worked very hard to get Senia reinstated as a Director. He argued that Senia’s removal as district rep was strong enough punishment and that he should be reinstated on the Board. In fact, Senia did got both jobs back, but not right away. Otto Eisele died a short time after this incident, yielding the cabal leadership to Ernie Seubert.
The Senia Cycle
In 1980, when Les Earnest was
Chairman Board of Control, the district representative for
Earnest pointed out to the directors who were supporting Senia that it had been just five years since he had been caught doing a major voting fraud and that he had shown no remorse. Earnest subsequently received very clear instructions from a number of sources that Senia was the man and he had better appoint him! They also made it clear that if Earnest tried to appoint anyone else, they would make sure that he would regret accepting the job. Having been born stubborn, Earnest refused to accept this guidance. He appointed a former rider with a Puerto Rican background who was independent of the cabal and appeared to be a fairly able administrator. Sure enough, the cabal members made his life miserable. Meanwhile, Earnest had to back off from participating in cycling and cease being an officer, after founding a new company to make laser printing systems for computers.
A short time later, Earnest
learned that Senia had received the personal papers of Frank Small, one of the
founders of the ABL who had recently died.
Earnest called Senia and suggested that he donate the papers to the USCF
By early 1982, the controversial
Earnest took over as Chairman
Board of Control again in 1983 and reviewed some of the data from district and
national championships that had been compiled by championship manager Jim
Harper. Earnest found it incredible that the
Earnest did some telephone investigating and learned from both riders and managers that Senia was shaving time from the district results in order to qualify more riders. Trouble was, none of these people were willing to be quoted publicly – they were afraid of what the cabal would do to them if they were identified as informers. It appeared clear that Senia was up to his old tricks, but Earnest declined to act because he did not have any witnesses who were willing to speak publicly. Earnest did not want to fire Senia without giving him a chance to defend himself, even though it was fairly certain of what was going on.
Earnest had gotten into cycling politics in the first place as a result of an unwarranted disqualification from the 1978 national championships of a defending five-time national champion. The USCF Board of Directors had subsequently suspended the rider for a year. All of this was based on alleged information from unnamed sources who were subsequently proven to be nonexistent. The false suspension was subsequently shortened to the time already served (six months), but there was no way to give back the national championship that the rider probably would have won. As a result of this experience an outstanding rider left the sport permanently.
In the Senia case, Earnest made
some more phone calls to
Earnest made one major blunder in this firing, he did it quietly rather than publicly. Four months later, in 1984, Peter Senia filed to run for the Board of Directors and, with the help of the cabal, he was elected. Thus, the USCF had the benefit of another honest, hardworking director from
There has been no evidence of voting fraud in recent years. Senia’s more recent runs for office have been less successful, for some reason. Given that there is currently a vacancy in the