When Patricia Eakin, a retired Temple University emergency room nurse and the president of a fast-growing nurses union, got the news, her stomach twisted into a knot.

"Of course I feel betrayed," said Eakin, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP).

The news was a Sept. 27 report from the union's outside auditor: Something was wrong. There had been three years of overpayments for salary advances and vacation advance pay — $131,282 in all, with the biggest amount, $120,687 going to the union's executive director, William P. Cruice, a lawyer. Smaller amounts were issued to a field organizer and an office administrator. The organizer has been placed on leave and the administrator is being carefully supervised, Eakin said.

"He was our first and only executive director," Eakin said. She remembers hiring Cruice when she and others founded PASNAP in 2001. "I worked closely with him and respected his work."

Eakin said union officials "confronted him pretty much as soon as we heard and we tried to figure out what happened." Cruice, she said, told them "nothing that really explained it."

She said the board asked for and received Cruice's resignation on Monday. Members were told the same day. "Everyone who knows him and loves the union is sad," Eakin said.

Cruice responded by email: "I am very surprised that such an accusation is being made," he wrote. "All expenditures of funds are authorized and made by the organization."

In a Sept. 28 federal filing, the union said it noted shortages, and is so far, listing them as "loans," saying the terms of repayment have yet to be determined.

The union said that on Sept. 28, it reported the audit's results to the U.S. Labor Department for further investigation of the payments, made over three years. On Sept. 29, the union stripped Cruice of his financial authority, and followed that with an "extensive and ongoing internal investigation." That led to Cruice being put on administrative leave Oct. 13 and resigning Oct. 16.

Cruice earned $226,678 in total compensation for the year ending June 30 — $160,870 in salary and the rest in disbursements for official business, according to the filing.

Longtime PASNAP organizer Mark Warshaw will take Cruice's place, serving as interim director.

"This in no way it will affect day-to-day operations, and we will continue to represent our members without interruption." Eakin said.

Even as the union, which is based in Conshohocken and represents 8,300 nurses and health-care workers, tried to grapple with the news, officials continued to conduct negotiations — for a first contract at Pottstown Medical Center and a contract renewal at Jeanes Hospital, part of the Temple University Health System.

"We are obviously disappointed and disheartened by what has occurred, but are confident that the PASNAP Board of Directors has taken, and will continue to take, all necessary steps to correct the situation and safeguard member resources. In the meantime, the nurses of Temple will continue to focus on improving patient care and safety right here in the hospital," Maureen May, a Temple University nurse and union official, said in a statement.

PASNAP has been adding members. In the last few years PASNAP has unionized nurses and others at Hahnemann University Hospital, Einstein Medical Center, St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, as well as several suburban hospitals. Cruice led the union through a long strike at Temple University Hospital in 2010. The union has been on the forefront of issues such as violence against nurses and other health workers, patient caseload, and forced overtime.