- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 18, 2005

Attorneys began closing arguments yesterday in the trial of three former Washington Teachers’ Union officials accused of stealing about $5 million from the union treasury between 1995 and 2002.

“For seven long years, they stole, stole, stole,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeannie Rhee said. “They lied, they lied, they lied. They covered it up. They covered it up.”

But, defense attorney Michele Roberts argued, “We don’t have to prove innocence. We are presumed to be innocent. The government has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Ms. Roberts represents former union Treasurer James Odell Baxter II, 50, accused of conspiracy, fraud, theft and other charges with former union office manager Gwendolyn M. Hemphill, 64.

Also on trial is former union accountant James A. Goosby, 56, who is charged with conspiracy and covering up the theft in the union’s books.

Five former union officials have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

Former union President Barbara A. Bullock, 66, pleaded guilty and is serving nine years in prison. Much of the testimony during the two-month trial referred to some of her purchases of fur coats, fashionable clothing, silverware and a champagne cooler with union money.

“This trial is not about Barbara Bullock,” Mrs. Rhee said. “It is about the paper trail left by these three defendants.”

Little of the court testimony referred to Mr. Goosby. But Mrs. Rhee said, “James Goosby served as the getaway driver. He didn’t resist. He stepped on the gas,” referring to the way he filed the tax returns.

“What was the state of the Washington Teachers’ Union? It was grim. They couldn’t pay the rent,” Mrs. Rhee said, explaining that the defendants knew how the thefts were accomplished and participated in their own way, which constitutes a conspiracy.

“They knew. They all knew,” Mrs. Rhee told jurors. “It was a massive seven-year conspiracy to defraud the union.”

During closing arguments, prosecutors showed jurors some pieces of evidence: a $50,000 fur coat for Bullock; four fur coats for Mrs. Hemphill; a $13,000 flat screen television from the Hemphill home; and a large painting from Mr. Baxter’s home.

Mrs. Rhee emphasized that Bullock opened American Express credit card accounts, which were used for many purchases. Then, a company was created to hide the purchases. The company enabled the defendants to launder money for their personal purchases.

Mr. Baxter, who took a second job with the D.C. government after the election of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, couldn’t “shop the way Barbara Bullock did,” Mrs. Rhee said.

But he charged $14,000 on the union’s American Express account for Washington Wizards basketball tickets.

Ms. Roberts said that those tickets were not an illegal purchase. She told jurors that many sports ticket purchases are a means of lobbying for support.

Mr. Baxter reported all of his income on his tax returns, Ms. Roberts said. “And you don’t tell Uncle Sam about stolen money,” she said.

Attorneys for Mr. Goosby and Mrs. Hemphill will offer their closing arguments on Monday.

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