A one-time lawyer for the Independence Seaport Museum testified at former state Sen. Vince Fumo's federal corruption trial yesterday that he "doubted the authenticity" of a letter that purported to show that Fumo had been billed for use of a yacht the museum had chartered for Fumo's pleasure.
The lawyer, William Hill, said it "struck him as odd" that former museum chief exec John Carter handed him a letter to pass on to FBI agents several weeks after the FBI had begun examining subpoenaed records.
Prosecutors contend that the letter, dated Sept. 12, 2001, is a fake, authored by Carter to make it seem as though Fumo had been billed for using a yacht in August 2001 that the museum provided to Fumo for free.
Fumo later submitted a $13,000 check in 2004 - while he was under federal investigation - to cover the cost of the trip. (Prosecutors do not contend that Fumo was aware that Carter wrote the fake letter.)
Carter is serving a 15-year sentence in federal prison for defrauding the museum in an unrelated case.
Prosecutors say Fumo defrauded the museum of more than $100,000 in free trips he took on museum yachts from 1996 to 2004.
Yesterday, jurors also heard from museum board members and friends of Fumo who took free cruises with him on museum yachts.
The board members - Walter D'Alessio and John Meigs - testified that they were unaware that Fumo was getting free trips on museum yachts.
D'Alessio, the museum's chairman from 1992 to 2005, said the board was "never asked" to approve free use of its yachts.
Meigs, a current board member, said he has never used museum yachts for pleasure or personal business without paying.
"Why not?" asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Zauzmer.
"Using them for a private purpose without paying . . . would not be appropriate," Meigs testified.
Defense attorney Stephen La-Cheen tried to get Meigs to admit that he had received a discount for two charters on the Enticer on the Delaware in 2003 and 2004 to entertain business clients.
Meigs paid $2,100 for each of the charters. The cost for a standard three-hour charter was $3,100 and thus Meigs had gotten a discount, LaCheen suggested.
Meigs explained that he negotiated a lower price with Carter because he was using the Enticer for only two hours.
As LaCheen persisted, U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter interrupted and turned to Meigs: "That's not a discount. You pay $3,100 for three hours and $2,100 for two hours," the judge said.
"That's what I've been saying," Meigs replied.
D'Alessio testified that after published reports raised questions about free use of the Enticer, the board passed a resolution in May 2004 that museum yachts could not be used without approval of both the museum CEO and its chair or vice chair.
Before that time, the only approval needed was the CEO's.
The defense contends that the free cruises that Fumo went on had been approved by Carter and that Fumo did fundraising and promoted the museum.
LaCheen showed jurors letters and requests from Carter and museum-development officials to Fumo asking him to put the "bite" on potential donors.
A friend who cruised on museum yachts with Fumo, William Mahoney, testified yesterday that Fumo had asked his wife to donate to the museum and that he had arranged for Fumo to pitch Ethel Kennedy (widow of Bobby) when the Enticer was in Nantucket. (Mahoney's wife never made a donation. It's unknown if Kennedy did.)
Prosecutors said they had never heard of the Ethel Kennedy story. *