Manager says she hid information about fraud

Codefendant of Bromwell accused of theft from firm

October 21, 2006|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,Sun reporter

A former Baltimore construction company manager admitted in federal court yesterday that she violated the conditions of her immunity agreement and withheld information about falsifying corporate documents from authorities who were investigating her boss and former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell.

Jeanie Ashfield-Testa, 63, of Ashburn, Va., pleaded guilty to concealing knowledge of mail fraud from federal law enforcement officials and renewed her promise of full cooperation in the coming joint trial of Bromwell and W. David Stoffregen, former president of contractor Poole and Kent.

The plea appeared to mark another step for prosecutors preparing for the trial of Stoffregen, Bromwell and the former senator's wife, Mary Pat. Five defendants in cases related to the investigation have pleaded guilty and agreed to help prosecutors.

The company's minority subcontracting problems were exposed a year ago when federal prosecutors charged Stoffregen with bribing Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat and once one of the most powerful politicians in Annapolis. Bromwell and his wife were indicted on charges including racketeering, mail fraud and extortion.

All three pleaded not guilty, and their joint trial is set to begin in February.

Yesterday, a teary-eyed Ashfield-Testa gave terse responses in a British accent to U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz, who accepted her plea in a hastily arranged hearing. Afterward, the permanent legal resident from England shook hands with prosecutors and federal agents handling the case.

Ashfield-Testa faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison followed by one year of probation. But according to federal guidelines, she is unlikely to serve much, if any, time behind bars. Her attorney William J. Murphy declined to comment.

For at least five years, Ashfield-Testa served as Stoffregen's right hand, personally handling his expense reports and private finances. Company officials said she left Poole and Kent in 2005.

In both civil and criminal filings, Stoffregen is accused of bilking the company he once led of more than $1 million.

According to court papers, Stoffregen repeatedly directed his office staff to make, and then later cancel, travel arrangements for him and for other Poole and Kent employees. Prosecutors said then both charges and credits would appear on his American Express billing statements.

But at Stoffregen's direction, Ashfield-Testa doctored copies of the credit card statements so that only the charges appeared, prosecutors said. Stoffregen then instructed Ashfield-Testa to list the canceled charges as reimbursable expenditures, according to court papers.

Ashfield-Testa was also instructed to inflate expense reports in other ways, such as changing the amounts and dates on billing statements and falsely listing Stoffregen's personal purchases as business-related expenses, according to court papers.

As a result of false claims, prosecutors said Poole and Kent paid the officer more than $261,000 for "business expenses" that were never incurred

In the beginning, Ashfield-Testa cooperated and appeared to reap the benefits of a deal with prosecutors. They promised not to indict her if she were truthful and complete about misdeeds at Poole and Kent, according to court papers.

On Oct. 21, 2003, the FBI interviewed Ashfield-Testa, but she did not tell them about the false expense reports. Twice in October and November 2004, Ashfield-Testa also testified before a federal grand jury under the protection of an immunity letter from prosecutors. But again, she did not divulge how she altered the expense reports for Stoffregen.

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com

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