Defense rests in legislator’s fraud trial

Published 10:22 pm Tuesday, September 2, 2008

DECATUR – Attorneys for state Rep. Sue Schmitz rested their case in her federal fraud trial Tuesday after she told the judge she would not testify.

Standing behind her chair at the defense table, the 63-year-old Schmitz said in a quiet, soft voice, “I do not wish to testify.” The defense then rested on the trial’s ninth day.

Schmitz, D-Toney, is the first legislator to be tried in the corruption probe of Alabama’s two-year colleges. She is accused of using her political influence to get a job with a program that helps troubled teenagers and then did little work.

U.S. District Judge David Proctor said prosecutors and defense attorneys will make closing arguments Wednesday morning and that he expects jurors to begin deliberations that afternoon.

After Schmitz’s side rested Tuesday, defense attorney Jake Watson asked the judge to dismiss the charges, saying prosecutors had not proven that Schmitz intended to commit fraud when she took a job to do public relations for the Community Intensive Training for Youth program. The program is administered by one of Alabama’s two-year colleges.

Prosecutors have presented time sheets, which they said Schmitz filled out even though she had not worked the hours listed.

But Watson argued that evidence showed the time sheets were not used by the program’s officials to determine how much Schmitz would be paid. She made about $177,000 in 31⁄2 years.

Proctor turned down the motion, saying Watson can make the same arguments to the jury.

“I think this is a question for the jury to decide,” Proctor said.

Prosecutors say Schmitz used the influence of some of Montgomery’s most powerful political figures to obtain a job with a federally funded program. Witnesses have testified that she was rarely seen at her Huntsville office or at other sites for the program.

Her attorneys have argued that she received little guidance from supervisors.

Schmitz’s attorneys called more than a half-dozen witnesses Tuesday who described her as honest, truthful and hard working.

The character witnesses included Madison County Commissioner Roger Jones, who said his district overlaps with Schmitz’s House district in northwest Madison County.

“She’s well-respected. I would say she’s a very truthful person. She does a very good job representing that area,” Jones said.

Under cross-examination by Prosecutor David Estes, Jones said he did not know anything about Schmitz’s reputation at the youth program where she worked.

Huntsville Fire Capt. Wayne Hastings testified that he had known Schmitz since her first campaign for public office in the 1990s.

“Her reputation is impeccable. She’s a very hard-working lady,” Hastings said.

Judy Sizemore, a case worker for U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer, testified that in 2003 she arranged for Schmitz to meet with civic and community leaders in the Shoals area. She said the original purpose was for Schmitz to talk about a bill she was sponsoring to give tax breaks to tourist attractions. But she said Schmitz used the occasion to sell the youth training program.

“It became a big interest for the group,” Sizemore said. She said the program eventually located an office in the Shoals area.

Under cross examination by Prosecutor William Athanas, Sizemoree said she’s not sure if Schmitz’s talk had anything to do with the program later locating in the area.

“I think it may have planted the seed,” she said.