A contractor who lives rent-free on state Sen. Vince Fumo's farm near Harrisburg told a jury at the senator's federal corruption trial yesterday that he and a neighbor bought a bulldozer for the farm for $13,900 and immediately flipped it to Citizens Alliance for Better Neighborhoods for $27,000.
Prosecutors used the transaction yesterday to illustrate how Citizens Alliance, which the feds say was controlled by Fumo, had been used as a piggybank by people close to Fumo.
Lewis Keith Jack, the contractor, testified that he had asked a neighbor, Gene Markel, to find a bulldozer in 2003 to do excavation work on the farm, in Halifax, Dauphin County.
Jack testified that Markel found a used one and that he told Markel to work up an invoice for $27,000 and bill Citizens Alliance. (Jack testified under a grant of immunity.)
The invoice was dated July 21, 2003, made out to Citizens Alliance for Better Neighborhoods for $27,000 and signed by Markel. That same day, Markel got a check from Citizens Alliance Holdings for $27,000.
The next day Markel cut a personal check to the bulldozer's owner for $13,900, according to exhibits admitted yesterday.
Jack said he and Markel both got about $3,000 out of the deal. Markel said he got $1,000 just for writing the check to the bulldozer's owner. (Jack said Fumo was not aware of the markup.)
"Is it possible you got more?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Zauzmer asked Jack.
"It's possible, I don't remember," Jack said.
Statements from Markel's bank account that were admitted yesterday showed a cash withdrawal of $8,720 the same day Markel deposited the $27,000 check into his account.
Markel testified that he had given the $8,720 to Jack, leaving $4,200, but Markel testified he didn't know if that was his share.
Jack said that the bulldozer remained on the farm until about a year ago but that he didn't know where it is now. Prosecutors said the bulldozer never left the farm.
The bulldozer saga doesn't end there.
The feds say Fumo arranged in early March 2004 - after the FBI investigation of the senator became public - for longtime friend Michael Palermo (who oversaw the farm and had a lucrative Senate contract unrelated to the farm) to buy the bulldozer from Citizens Alliance for $27,000.
The feds say Fumo and co-defendant Ruth Arnao, former executive director of Citizens Alliance, looted the nonprofit of more than $1 million for Fumo's personal and political benefit.
Earlier yesterday, two businessmen and longtime friends of Fumo - Robert Gross and Carmen DiCamillo - testified that they went on trips to Cuba, in February and November 2002, respectively, that were sponsored by the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy, which opposes the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba.
They said Fumo and Arnao invited them on the trips, but Gross and DiCamillo paid all their expenses except for the $3,000 per-person cost for private air charter from Tampa to Havana and back, which was paid by Citizens Alliance.
Gross and DiCamillo said they were unaware at the time that Citizens Alliance had paid for any portion of the trip.
The feds say Citizens Alliance shelled out $39,000 for these and other trips to Cuba for the personal benefit of Fumo and his friends.
Defense lawyers sought to show that the trips were business-related and could benefit Philadelphia.
Gross testified on cross-examination that if the embargo were lifted, potential trade opportunities for the port of Philadelphia could be opened up.
Gross and DiCamillo have extensive ties to both defendants.
Gross said Fumo was helpful in landing a high-ranking executive position with the Delaware River Port Authority.
DiCamillo hired Arnao after she left Citizens Alliance to handle sales for his company, VoiceNet Communications, where she makes $50,000 plus 10 percent commissions on new business she brings in.