A longtime aide to former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo who was to testify on Fumo's behalf in his federal corruption trial has acknowledged that she stole thousands of dollars from the state, according to people familiar with the investigation of the theft.
The sources said Susan Skotnicki, who was hired to work in Fumo's Harrisburg office in 1981, had concocted phony meal invoices claiming thousands of dollars for reimbursement by the Senate and then pocketed the money.
Her attorney, Catherine M. Recker, declined Friday to discuss specifics of the investigation, except to say Skotnicki plans to make full restitution.
"Sue is extremely remorseful, and she'll be doing everything in her power to right this wrong," Recker said.
While Recker would not discuss the size of the theft, one source said it was expected to be about $60,000.
Skotnicki resigned last week from her $103,169-a-year job.
The anticipated guilty plea could set the public record straight on what state expense records had suggested was lavish taxpayer spending by Fumo: Over two years, Senate records showed, he put in for reimbursement for 2,317 meals at La Veranda restaurant, a tony waterfront restaurant in Philadelphia.
The tab came to $73,000, and, as The Inquirer reported in 2003, it was paid for from unchecked Harrisburg accounts controlled by a few Senate and House leaders. It was unclear exactly how much of the $73,000 was actually spent on meals for the senator.
Neither Fumo nor La Veranda had any knowledge of Skotnicki's alleged actions, one source said.
Asked for comment, Fumo defense attorney Dennis J. Cogan said Friday that Fumo was troubled by the news.
"He's devastated by what he's learned about this in the last few weeks," Cogan said.
Federal investigators found out about the fraud during Fumo's trial, which is heading into its 10th week, though exactly how it had been discovered was unclear. The matter is separate from the sprawling indictment against Fumo.
Fumo, a powerful Democrat in Harrisburg and Philadelphia for decades, is charged with defrauding the Senate by getting employees to do personal and political-campaign work on Senate time. He also is charged with defrauding two nonprofits and obstructing justice.
Skotnicki had been expected to testify for the defense that she worked a lot of hours doing the people's business, toiling even when she was on vacation.
Cogan told the jury in his opening address that Skotnicki had put in 50 to 60 hours a week for Fumo over 30 years or more, and "she doesn't regret one minute of it."
Skotnicki is no longer expected to testify for the defense.
She allegedly created a phony La Veranda letterhead as an invoice for meals supposedly eaten by Fumo and others at the restaurant. Once the Senate reimbursed Fumo's Senate account, Skotnicki, who was authorized to write checks on that account, allegedly wrote checks to herself.