- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The former president of the Washington Teachers Union testified yesterday that there was no conspiracy to embezzle an estimated $5 million from the union.

“That never occurred,” said Barbara A. Bullock during her fourth day of testimony at the trial of three former union officials in U.S. District Court. Bullock, 66, pleaded guilty to embezzlement in 2003.

Court documents also disclosed yesterday that Bullock had not paid income taxes since the mid-1980s. The disclosure prompted D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams to address the matter during his weekly press briefing yesterday afternoon.

Mr. Williams said he takes responsibility if the unpaid taxes went unnoticed during his years as the District’s chief financial officer in the 1990s.

“Clearly, it was an omission,” he said.

Mr. Williams said yesterday was the first time that he had heard of Bullock’s failure to pay taxes.

Saying tax-collection efforts have been bolstered in recent years, Mr. Williams said Bullock’s testimony raises a “fair question from an enforcement point of view” of whether city officials did enough to “connect the dots” in her case.

In court yesterday, Bullock admitted that she hopes she will get her nine-year prison sentence reduced after testifying against former union treasurer James O. Baxter II, 50; former office manager Gwendolyn M. Hemphill, 63, and former union accountant James Goosby Jr., 55.

Mrs. Hemphill also served as co-chairwoman of Mr. Williams’ re-election campaign, before she was charged in the union case.

During his press briefing, Mr. Williams said he now wishes that he had not appointed Mrs. Hemphill, calling the fallout from the teachers union scandal a low point in his political career.

“I think it was a bad personnel decision that I regret,” he said.

Because of the scandal, Mr. Williams said his 2002 campaign contributions and expenditures have been scoured by the press, the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“To the extent that people feel they still haven’t review these records, all publicly filed, I welcome any review people want to make,” he said.

In her testimony yesterday, Bullock told attorneys that she wanted to move on with her life, including serving her prison term.

“I put this behind me, and I’m moving on to the future,” Bullock told Mrs. Hemphill’s attorney, Deborah St. Jean.

Earlier, Bullock said it was legal for the defendants to seek union reimbursements for such expenses as lunches, sport utility vehicle rentals, office supplies, convention hotels and meals, shipping and mailing union materials, and the use of their personal vehicles for union business.

Previously, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Cooper had detailed the reimbursement amounts and large sums charged to WTU’s American Express card account.

They included $5,013.99 to Mrs. Hemphill for mailing, apparently for sending union materials to about 5,000 union members, and $9,700 for “tickets and audio” equipment. Bullock said the audio equipment might have included loudspeakers and microphones used at a union membership meeting.

Ms. St. Jean referred to Bullock’s February 2003 interview by FBI agents, during which Bullock stated she thought “conspiracy” meant to cover up evidence.

“I never had planned per se to cover up,” Bullock testified yesterday. “But when you look at what we did, we did cover up.”

Mrs. Hemphill had said another account was needed because of WTU’s financial woes, Bullock said.

Bullock has said they used the name of a cooperative firm identified in court records as Expressions Unlimited and another American Express card account to hide the expenditures. Expressions Unlimited was operated by the defendants’ friends and relatives and has since shut down, records show.

Bullock reportedly spent as much as $1.2 million from the WTU’s treasury on jewelry, crystal, silverware, clothes, mink coats and gifts for union members, family and friends.

Yesterday, Bullock said she authorized Mrs. Hemphill to buy gifts for her “not lots and lots of times, but sometimes.”

Ms. St. Jean read details of the embezzlement conspiracy from Bullock’s plea agreement. Bullock said she could not recall many details.

“There was a lot going on, and I don’t recall all that,” she said. “I agreed to what had been done cause I knew what had been done.”

The trial is scheduled to resume Monday.

• Jim McElhatton contributed to this story.

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