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An attorney for a former Hill staffer accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the office of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) argued Thursday that his client was carrying out orders to spend all of the money allocated to the office.
The prosecution and defense presented their opening arguments Thursday in Ngozi Pole’s criminal trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Pole was following office precedent for addressing a budget surplus when he issued unauthorized bonuses and salary increases to himself while he was Kennedy’s office manager, defense attorney Rudolph Acree said.
Pole also issued unauthorized payments to co-workers and thought he was doing nothing wrong, Acree said. Pole repeatedly asked the office’s chief of staff to establish written procedures or provide guidance regarding excess office funds, but he did not get a response to those requests, the attorney added.
“Mr. Pole was left to his own devices to deal with” the budget surplus, Acree said. “Reaching out for assistance and help goes unheeded. You know you’re supposed to spend down the budget, so you do.”
Pole has been charged with five counts of wire fraud and one count of theft of government property. Federal prosecutors say he issued himself more than $75,000 in unauthorized bonus payments and salary increases between 2003 and 2007.
Prosecutors Deborah Mayer and Ethan Levisohn said in their opening argument that Pole, who was responsible for submitting payroll information to the Senate Disbursing Office, repeatedly manipulated the paperwork to increase his salary. He hid his actions from the office’s chief of staff, to whom he reported only the amounts he was authorized, they alleged.
“Day after day, week after week and month after month, Pole quietly and deliberately stole $75,000,” Mayer said. “Not only did the defendant submit these fabricated payroll forms, but he concealed what he was doing.”
According to the defense, Pole could not have concealed the increases because Congressional staffers’ salaries are public information.
“It’s not like there was a form that said one thing and another that said something else,” Acree said. “There was no scheme. There was no attempting to hide.”
Congressional pay records maintained by Legistorm.com indicate Pole left Kennedy’s office in January 2007 and served as deputy chief of staff to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) until May 2007. Pole also campaigned for a seat on the Senate Federal Credit Union Board in 2003.
Each count of wire fraud carries a maximum prison term of 20 years and a $250,000 fine, according to the Justice Department. The charge of theft of government property could result in a maximum prison term of 10 years and a $250,000 fine.
An indictment issued in December 2009 alleged that Pole directed the Senate Disbursing Office to instruct the Federal Reserve Bank to deposit the improper payments to his Senate Federal Credit Union account, which led to the charges of wire fraud.
The trial will resume Tuesday.
Jennifer Yachnin contributed to this report.