- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2005

A former office manager for the Washington Teachers’ Union testified yesterday that she helped former top union officials embezzle hundreds of thousands of dollars in dues for fear of her job.

‘I was concerned about myself,’ Martha Britton testified in U.S. District Court yesterday. ‘I was facilitating it. I was facilitating the payments of these checks.’

Mrs. Britton’s testimony came in the federal embezzlement trial of former executive assistant Gwendolyn M. Hemphill, former Treasurer James O. Baxter II and former union accountant James Goosby. The three are accused of misappropriating nearly $5 million in union dues from the late 1990s to 2002 along with former President Barbara A. Bullock.

Prosecutors said they were caught in 2002 after they conspired to deduct $16 in dues from teachers’ weekly paychecks, instead of the usual $1.60.

Bullock, who pleaded guilty in 2003 and is serving a nine-year prison sentence, is expected to testify for the prosecution later this week.

Yesterday, Mrs. Britton, who is not charged in the case, told the jury that Bullock used her American Express card to buy extravagant clothes, meals and gas in excess of $8,000 to $10,000 per month.

‘She was just shopping … she was just shopping for any and everything,’ the former office manager said.

Mrs. Britton, who worked for the union from 1994 to 1996, said Bullock, a one-time friend, was so ‘irate’ about her card’s being declined one weekend that she intimidated everyone in the office, including Mr. Baxter, to make sure it never happened again.

Mrs. Britton said she tried to warn Mr. Baxter, who himself turned in expenses totaling as much as $1,000 per month for food and gas.

Defense attorneys for Mrs. Hemphill, who served on D.C. Mayor Anthony A. William’s re-election campaign, Mr. Baxter, who also served as the Democrat’s labor liaison, and Mr. Goosby blamed Bullock, who they said masterminded the scheme.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon yesterday said a key prosecution witness — Edward J. McElroy, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) — may be trying to fight his subpoena to testify in the trial.

The AFT took control of the local union after the scandal was revealed.

Mr. McElroy could not be reached for comment.

The trial is expected to take up much of the summer.

Jurors today will continue to hear testimony from prosecution witness Esther Hankerson,a former general vice president of the union.

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