A longtime assistant to former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo was formally charged yesterday with fraud in the alleged theft of about $63,000 from the state, by submitting fraudulent invoices for Senate reimbursement for meals at a chic Philadelphia restaurant and then pocketing the money.
Susan Skotnicki, 52, who resigned last week from her $103,169-a-year state job, was charged with one count of mail fraud and is expected to plead guilty.
Her defense attorney, Catherine M. Recker, said yesterday that no date had been scheduled for the plea before U.S. District Judge Anita Brody. Recker has said that Skotnicki intends to make restitution and will do "everything in her power to right this wrong."
Skotnicki, who lives in Camp Hill, Pa., and had worked for Fumo at his Capitol office since 1981, had been set to appear as a defense witness in Fumo's ongoing corruption trial, but is no longer expected to testify. Fumo's lead defense attorney, Dennis J. Cogan, has described Fumo as devastated by the actions of his longtime aide.
Skotnicki's responsibilities included the preparation and submission of Fumo's expenses for reimbursement - including for meals at La Veranda, an elegant restaurant on the Delaware River waterfront. The Inquirer reported in 2003 that Senate records showed that Fumo put in for reimbursement for 2,317 meals at the restaurant with a tab that came to $73,000.
The charge filed yesterday indicates that it was Skotnicki who submitted exorbitant reimbursement requests.
The charge says Skotnicki submitted false or inflated invoices for $71,156 for 100 meals with an average of 22 guests, often inflating the number of guests to avoid suspicion. The actual amounts for the meals, based on authentic La Veranda invoices, was $12,324, according to the eight-page document filed yesterday in U.S. District Court.
After the Senate issued reimbursement checks, Skotnicki deposited them into Fumo's account, and wrote about 89 checks payable to herself and pocketed about $63,000, the charge states.
Fumo, 65, a long-powerful Democrat whose term ended last month, did not seek reelection because of the sprawling federal indictment. He is charged with obstructing justice and defrauding two nonprofits, and with defrauding the Senate by getting employees to do personal and political-campaign tasks on Senate time.
Skotnicki was expected to have testified - as a number of other Fumo workers have said - that she worked more than the required 37.5 hours per week, and that the Senate got more than its fair share of hours.
The trial, which is unfolding before U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter, was put on hold yesterday and today because Cogan has the flu. Testimony is scheduled to resume on Monday.