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Prosecution alleges fraud schemes in Fumo case

Faked signatures and a phony letter were the focus of testimony yesterday in the federal corruption trial of former Sen. Vincent J. Fumo as prosecutors presented evidence on two alleged fraud schemes.

Faked signatures and a phony letter were the focus of testimony yesterday in the federal corruption trial of former Sen. Vincent J. Fumo as prosecutors presented evidence on two alleged fraud schemes.

In the morning, a former board member of the nonprofit that is central to the prosecution's case testified that the scribbles purported to be his signature on a dozen documents outlining the nonprofit's expenditures were not his.

"I don't recognize them," said Albert Mezzaroba, a former member of Citizens' Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, as Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Zauzmer took him through the documents.

In the afternoon, the prosecution introduced documents they contend show that John S. Carter, the former president of Independence Seaport Museum, authored a fake letter to make it appear that Fumo had been billed for using a yacht provided by the museum.

Fumo, 65, a former board member of the museum, is accused of defrauding the institution by getting free trips on yachts provided by the museum.

Prosecutors contend the letter was important because it indicates that Fumo and Carter conspired to let the onetime Democratic powerbroker cruise for free on museum yachts.

Then, Carter forged a letter to cover up the scheme, they argued.

In the letter, dated Sept. 12, 2001, the maritime museum president wrote to Fumo and said he was enclosing copies of bills for a yacht called the Sweet Distraction that Fumo had used in August of that year.

The bottom of the letter contained a notation indicating it had been typed by Carter's assistant, Carol Burkert.

But Burkert, who has worked for the museum for 39 years, told the jury yesterday that she never typed that letter.

"Is there any doubt that this is not a letter that you would have typed?" asked Assistant U.S. Attorney John J. Pease.

"No," replied Burkert

The letter turned up in 2004, after the FBI had begun investigating the trips.

Fumo submitted a $13,000 check to cover the cost of one such trip - three years after it occurred, and while the FBI was investigating him.

Prosecutors said they did not allege that Fumo was aware that Carter had forged the letter.

Carter is now serving a 15-year prison term for his conviction of stealing from his own museum. That case did not involve Fumo.

Fumo is also charged with defrauding Citizens' Alliance of about $1.4 million by getting it to pay for a range of personal items, including power tools, vacuums and other items.

His codefendant is a former legislative aide, Ruth Arnao, who was also the chief executive of Citizens' Alliance.

Mezzaroba, who once was the chief executive of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority, testified about a key board meeting of Citizens' Alliance in late 2003, after The Inquirer published articles raising questions about the nonprofit.

At the meeting, Mezzaroba testified, he was asked to sign a series of resolutions ratifying all kinds of purchases made by Citizens' Alliance - dating back more than a decade.

He said he balked because he was being asked to approve spending, but was not given details about the expenditures.

"Did you object?" asked Zauzmer.

"Yes, I did," replied Mezzaroba, who resigned from the Citizens' Alliance board a short time later when he was appointed to the Convention Center Authority.

Nonetheless, he testified, what purported to be his signature appeared on numerous resolutions later approving all the spending.

Prosecutors did not suggest who might have forged Mezzaroba's signature.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Edwin J. Jacobs Jr. highlighted that Mezzaroba had told the grand jury that, if Arnao had asked his permission to sign his name, he would have given it.

"Yes," said Mezzaroba.

Jacobs also got Mezzaroba to acknowledge that he believed his appointment to the Citizens' Alliance board was an honorary position, and that he never expected to know all the details about its expenditures and projects.

While he didn't sign those resolutions, Mezzaroba testified, he did sign lots of blank checks - 100 or 200 at a time - for Arnao without any reservation.

"I trusted Ruth," said Mezzaroba. "I had all the faith in the world in Ruth."

The trial will resume Monday before U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter.