- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A former Adriana Furs employee testified yesterday in the trial of former Washington Teachers Union officials, identifying five fur coats that she said defendant Gwendolyn M. Hemphill or family members purchased.

“She didn’t want her husband to know she was buying a fur coat,” said Aki Shabani of the first purchase in 1999 — a full-length mink coat worth about $4,096, which had Mrs. Hemphill’s name monogrammed on the inside.

Mrs. Hemphill, 63, a former officer manager, and former union Treasurer James O. Baxter II, 50, are charged with conspiracy and aiding and abetting in the theft of nearly $5 million from the late 1990s until 2002.

Prosecutors in U.S. District Court also presented testimony and evidence yesterday that the former officials also spent thousands of dollars on silk dresses, picture frames and Washington Wizards basketball tickets.

Former accountant James Goosby Jr., 55, is charged with helping hide the thefts by filing phony financial reports. His name was mentioned yesterday, only for signing the Internal Revenue Service papers.

Mrs. Shabani also said Mrs. Hemphill’s son-in-law, Michael Martin, came into the store at least three times to purchase fur coats, including a jacket and a vest for himself. However, she could not remember Barbara A. Bullock, the former union president who is serving nine years in prison for embezzlement and had testified that she accompanied Mr. Martin on coat-buying trips.

One of the others who testified about the unusual purchases was George Shelton of Graffiti Audio-Video. Mr. Shelton testified that he sold and helped install a 50-inch diagonal television in the Hemphill home in June 2001. The $12,999 set was paid for with a union American Express card. No taxes were added, because the union is tax-exempt, Mr. Shelton said.

Maxine Rizik, of Rizik Brothers specialty women’s clothing, identified a pure silk, gray-green, hand-painted dress and jacket that she said she sold to Mrs. Hemphill for $1,411.76 on her American Express card.

Paula Powell, comptroller for the Wizards basketball team, and William R. Tomoff, of Washington Sports and Entertainment, said Mr. Baxter used a union American Express card to pay for two reserved seats in the MCI Center for $3,708 for the brief 2000-01 season and $10,660 for the next season.

Nancy Luque, attorney for Mrs. Hemphill, who repeatedly objected to testimony, ended the day after the jury was excused by complaining that prosecutors provided documents too late for use in cross-examining witnesses and were confusing the 18-person jury by using paper exhibits and video screens.

Mrs. Luque started the day, before the judge and jury arrived, by loudly scolding Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeannie Rhee.

“Don’t you tell me when we’re done,” she said. “I’ll tell you when we’re done. Don’t you preach to me Jeannie Rhee. How dare you? Don’t be calling me a liar.”

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