A former member of state Sen. Vince Fumo's inner circle and a trusted confidant didn't do his ex- patron any favors yesterday.
Testifying before a federal jury in Fumo's corruption trial, Howard Cain told jurors that he was given a lucrative Senate contract to do mostly campaign work.
He said that after the federal investigation of Fumo became public in 2004, he was told to change how he submitted his invoices to the Senate Democratic Appropriations Committee, and later began "padding the hours" on his invoices to make it appear he was doing official Senate work when he was working on campaigns.
He said that Fumo staffers in the senator's Tasker Street district office commingled Senate and campaign work.
Cain, a stout man with a bald spot, said that he first met Fumo in 1982, and was hired as an employee of the Senate Democratic Appropriations Committee in 1986, but became a Senate contractor a year later.
He testified that over the next 20 years he did little else but work on campaigns and provide campaign consulting in exchange for a lucrative Senate contract.
Cain was paid more than $500,000 by the Senate Democratic Appropriations Committee from 2000 through 2006.
Cain testified that up until 2004, he would submit a one-page invoice each month for services rendered to the committee and chairman with no description of the services provided and no mention of campaign-related work.
Beginning in July 2004, Cain had to itemize what he was working on and how many hours he devoted to each project.
He attributed the change to the fact that a federal investigation of Fumo had recently been made public.
That's also when he began "padding the hours" on his invoices. He said that he listed services he provided on the invoices that were political, but that they "didn't appear to be political" on the invoices. Cain explained to jurors that it was illegal for the state to pay somebody for campaign-related work.
Cain said that besides working on Fumo's campaigns he was involved in at least 60 other campaigns, usually at Fumo's behest.
"Why was that?" Pease asked.
"It gives [Fumo] political currency, political capital," Cain replied. "If the senator helps get somebody elected . . . he has a chit he can call on. It helps advance his political power."
Cain testified that he and Fumo frequently communicated with each other about the status of his campaign work, especially during election cycles.
Fumo was aware that he was working on campaigns, he said, adding that when it came to supporting other candidates financially or paying for polling, he'd check with the senator first.
"I would never spend money unless I talked to him," Cain told jurors. "There wasn't any money spent unless he knew what it was for."
Cain said he was paid for his campaign work out of his Senate contract. Fumo-controlled PACs paid Cain just $9,400 between 2000 and 2006, according to a government exhibit admitted into evidence yesterday. Cain said he often met with Fumo in his Senate office to discuss campaign-related matters.
To Fumo, there was no distinction between official Senate business and campaign-related work, Cain said.
He said it was not uncommon to see Fumo's Senate staffers prepare direct mailings, fundraising letters and review nominating petitions.
"When the senator was interested in a campaign, everybody knew it and would do whatever he could," Cain said.
He told the jury that the second floor of Fumo's district office was "set up to turn it into a phone bank."
Defense lawyers have said that official and campaign business were clearly separated.
The defense also contends that if Senate staffers performed campaign duties during the workday, they made up the time spent at night or on the weekends.
The defense is expected to argue that Cain needed to work about 10 hours a week on Senate matters to earn his annual salary, based on a pay rate of $150 per hour.
Defense lawyers also are also expected to argue that Cain got a sweetheart plea deal from the feds in exchange for his testimony.
Cain admitted at his plea hearing last June that he had not filed a tax return since 1991 nor had paid any federal taxes on more than $1 million of income from 1997 to 2006.