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Citizens' Alliance member grilled over purchases

There were a meat grinder, a barbecue grill, a turkey fryer, lots of power tools, and an array of books, including the Encyclopedia of Country Living and a handbook called the Worst Case Scenario.

There were a meat grinder, a barbecue grill, a turkey fryer, lots of power tools, and an array of books, including the

Encyclopedia of Country Living

and a handbook called the

Worst Case Scenario


These were just some of the purchases cited in court yesterday that federal prosecutors contend were paid for by Citizens' Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, the South Philadelphia nonprofit that is at the center of the sprawling indictment against former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo.

The prosecution contends that Fumo and his codefendant, Ruth Arnao, the former head of Citizens' Alliance, routinely skimmed from the nonprofit by getting it to pay for all kinds of personal purchases, causing a loss to the charity of about $1.4 million.

Tracy Burris, a supervisor for the nonprofit, was called to testify about which purchases went for tools and other items that helped workers achieve the goal of beautifying the neighborhood.

Though Burris acknowledged that some purchases were for items he and his crew members used, he said he was not familiar with many of the items listed.

Referring to a $2,600 lumber purchase at a Home Depot near the Jersey Shore, where Fumo and Arnao both had houses, Assistant U.S. Attorney John J. Pease asked Burris whether he ever bought lumber to be shipped to Ventnor.

"No," Burris replied.

Pease went through page after page of purchases - everything from expensive paint, power tools and electrical tools to fruit cups, chips, shampoo and DVDs.

"Are you familiar with any of these purchases?" Pease asked.

"No," Burris again replied.

The testimony came as Pease and Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Zauzmer are poised to wrap up the segment of the corruption case dealing with the alleged efforts by Fumo and Arnao to defraud the charity.

The next segment, which is likely to start unfolding next week, will focus on Fumo's alleged attempt to obstruct the FBI and IRS investigation.

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

Also yesterday, prosecutors called two more accountants to testify about their unsuccessful efforts to get information from Citizens' Alliance about the nonprofit's payment of polling costs.

Arthur Amelio, an accountant at Stockton, Bates LLP, told the jury his firm needed more information to determine whether the polling was political in nature.

The question was important because federal law bars nonprofits from engaging in politics except in limited circumstances.

"It got to the point where we didn't think we were going to get the information we needed," Amelio told the jury. "Then we resigned."

Prosecutors contend that Citizens' Alliance improperly paid for $250,000 in polls that surveyed the political strength of four City Council members, the political viability of former Mayor John F. Street, and the political climate in districts outside Philadelphia.

After news surfaced about the FBI investigation, Fumo had one of his campaign funds repay Citizens' Alliance for the polling.

Defense attorney Edwin J. Jacobs Jr., who represents Arnao, contended that the issue was complex - and that even a half-dozen accountants and lawyers were unsure what to do with the polling expense on the nonprofit's tax returns.

Fumo's defense attorney, Dennis J. Cogan, portrayed Fumo as unfamiliar with the nonprofit's tax issues.

Amelio acknowledged that he had never spoken with Fumo about the tax issues and had met Fumo only once.

Cogan also asked him whether anyone at Stockton, Bates had ever reviewed with Fumo a single IRS filing on the matter.

"I don't believe so," Amelio said.