Office assistants testify in Wecht case
Share with others:
After blowing each other kisses at the entry way to the courtroom, two former administrative assistants to Dr. Cyril H. Wecht went their separate ways yesterday.
Maribeth Blettner was returning home to Florida after two days on the witness stand in the former Allegheny County coroner's criminal fraud trial. Eileen Young, her successor, was just getting started.
As the trial's third week concluded, both women testified to conducting private business for the forensic pathologist from the coroner's office, using public resources such as phone and fax lines.
"You were sitting at the coroner's office conducting the transactions with private clients during the workday?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen S. Stallings asked Mrs. Blettner.
"Yes," replied the woman who worked for Dr. Wecht from 1970 to 2001.
Ms. Young, who testified under a grant of immunity by the government, acknowledged being asked by Dr. Wecht to work on political events, such as soliciting donations for an unsuccessful campaign for state Superior Court by his son, David.
David Wecht is an Allegheny County Common Pleas Court judge.
Ms. Young said she printed fund-raising letters at the coroner's office and even stuffed envelopes. Nevertheless, she testified, she completed her county duties.
"My county work never suffered," Ms. Young said.
The trial resumed yesterday after a two-day hiatus. Electrical problems at the federal courthouse Tuesday morning forced the building's closure. Next week's trial schedule will also be abbreviated because of Presidents Day Monday.
Prosecutors used the women's words to bolster their main contention that Dr. Wecht used his public office for personal gain, essentially running his multimillion-dollar private autopsy and consulting business with help from county employees.
Dr. Wecht is charged with 41 offenses including wire fraud, mail fraud and theft of honest services.
Dr. Wecht's defense did not get much mileage trying to reinforce its main claim that the indictment of the celebrity pathologist is little more than a political witch hunt.
At one point, defense attorney Jerry McDevitt vainly tried to make a point that the FBI did not preserve in writing certain information obtained from Mrs. Blettner, such as that she personally bought stamps and paper to handle Dr. Wecht's private correspondence.
"The conduct of the investigation is not on trial here as you know," U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab warned Mr. McDevitt after Mr. Stallings objected.
"I respectfully disagree, your honor," Mr. McDevitt answered.
First Published February 15, 2008 12:00 am