- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Washington Teachers Union sometimes paid twice for meals, tailoring and other expenditures for its treasurer, James O. Baxter II, an auditor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office testified yesterday.

On Valentine’s Day in 2002, Mr. Baxter, 50, paid a restaurant bill for two persons with the union’s American Express card, auditor Nicholas Novak testified during his sixth day on the witness stand in U.S. District Court.

The same expenditure was claimed later by Mr. Baxter in “out of pocket expenses” for WTU, Mr. Novak said. That way, the union paid the credit card bill and then Mr. Baxter’s claim for the same expenditure.

In other union credit card and business expense claims, Mr. Novak said he found duplicates for expenditures, including a $202.99 tailoring bill, and $25.80 and $38.50 restaurant bills.

Typical vouchers for “what [Mr. Baxter] claimed were his expenses” included totals for $1,651, $1,659, $1,359.58, $1,355.58, $1,551.59 and $2,307.97, Mr. Novak said. Other expenses typically included gasoline mileage, meals, cell phone bills and sports entertainment.

Nearing the end of the eighth week of trial, Mr. Novak is also testifying against former office manager Gwendolyn Hemphill, 64, who like Mr. Baxter is charged with conspiracy and theft, and James A. Goosby, 56, an accountant charged with covering up the thefts of more than $5 million from the union treasury.

Five former WTU employees, including its former president, Barbara A. Bullock, 66, have pleaded guilty in the case.

Bullock, who testified earlier in the trial, is serving nine years in prison and hopes to have her sentence reduced in exchange for her testimony. The other former union employees, most of whom have testified in the current trial, will be sentenced later.

The trial is moving slowly, partly because of the numerous bench conferences that usually occur after defense attorneys make objections.

Yesterday, Judge Richard J. Leon called at least seven bench conferences during which he turned on a static machine to prevent the jury from hearing his legal discussion with prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The seven bench conferences lasted a total of 56 minutes.

At the end of the day, Judge Leon urged prosecutors and defense attorneys to be more efficient in procedures. He ordered them to be in court by 9:30 a.m. today to work out conflicts before the jury is called at 10 a.m.

Judge Leon has recessed court next week while he is on vacation. He said the pace of the trial so far suggests that it may last until late August. Defense attorneys have not yet begun presenting their case.

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