Wecht billed clients for phony travel, secretary tells jury
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Dr. Cyril H. Wecht's former longtime secretary acknowledged yesterday that she sometimes billed her boss's private clients for $80 round-trip limousine rides that he never took.
Maribeth Blettner, who worked for the former Allegheny County coroner for 31 years before she retired in 2001, testified on the ninth day of the federal criminal trial against Dr. Wecht that she sent invoices for his airfare to private clients using billing stationery from a defunct travel agency that he once patronized.
Mrs. Blettner was the second witness called yesterday as Dr. Wecht's criminal fraud trial began its third week. He is charged with 41 counts, including mail fraud, wire fraud and theft from an organization receiving federal funds. The U.S. government has accused Dr. Wecht of using his public office for private gain.
The government produced information that showed that Mrs. Blettner earned more than $30,000 from Dr. Wecht's private business prior to 1996. After that, when he became coroner and she went on the county payroll, her private workload remained the same but the amount Dr. Wecht's business paid her dropped to under $10,000. The clear indication was that taxpayers were paying her to do private work for Dr. Wecht.
However, Mrs. Blettner said she took county work home with her on weekends. Under cross-examination she testified that she was scrupulous about separating private and public duties in certain respects.
Earlier in the day, chief histologist Joseph Thomas Rabickow III, who works for what is now the county medical examiner's office, described how his predecessor, George Hollis, created a backlog in preparing histology slides by focusing almost exclusively on private work for Dr. Wecht.
Mr. Rabickow, who started at the coroner's office in 1995, said he and Mr. Hollis initially shared the county workload, but Mr. Hollis' county work diminished over time, falling off dramatically in early 2001.
In 2004, the government contended, Mr. Hollis prepared only a single histology slide for county-related work.
First Published February 12, 2008 12:00 am