The first week of testimony is complete in the trial of former Arts Council director P. David Romei, who faces felony theft and misappropriation charges.
The one and only witness in a short day for the trial Friday was Bryan Schwartz, the state's investigator in the case. He testified that he was assigned the case after members of the Arts Council board and the current director, Padraic Fisher, brought the district attorney documents showing possible improprieties. Those papers included credit card receipts and reimbursements forms.
Schwartz would later execute a search warrant on Romei's home and take checks from three different banks, personal credit cards and Arts Council of the Brazos Valley contracts.
Recorded interviews between Schwartz and Romei were played for the jury later. In the first clip, Romei said he did not believe there was a personnel file for him at the arts council. Earlier testimony indicated some employees believed that file to be missing.
Then, recordings of discussions about trips were played. Romei is, among other things, accused of paying for personal trips with arts money. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The majority of the clips were talks about a late 2004 trip Romei, his roommate Stanton Ware and his niece Stephanie took to Amsterdam and Germany. In the first clips from the interviews, Romei claimed the trip was personal in nature, that he would use the arts council card to pay for them in order to get better benefits and frequent flier miles, that he believed he had reimbursed the arts council for the tickets, but that if he hadn't, it was an honest mistake.
In later clips, which were from a second and third interview Schwartz conducted, Romei is told that the tickets for Ware and Stephanie Romei had been reimbursed, but not P. David Romei's. Romei then begins saying there were business aspects to this trip, like going to museums and looking at graphic opportunities.
In regards to paying for his trip to Alabama for his father's funeral with an ACBV credit card, Romei said that would have been a personal trip, and if he hadn't reimbursed the arts, it was a mistake he'd be happy to correct.
With plane tickets Romei used an ACBV card to pay for so his mother and niece could attend the Veterans Memorial opening, Romei again said it would have been an honest mistake during the busiest time of his life if he hadn't reimbursed the arts council.
Schwartz testified he found no reimbursements for three of the four trips in question, including a trip to Tampa. For the European trip, he found a reimbursement for Stephanie Romei, and that Stanton Ware had the money taken out of his regular payment as a subcontractor for graphic design. No reimbursements were made on Romei's expenses, Schwartz said.
Under cross examination, Romei's attorney, Richard "Racehorse" Haynes, questioned Schwartz about information regarding current Arts Council director Padraig Fisher. Romei had provided information to the district attorney's office that was unflattering to Fisher, the details of which were not discussed in court.
Schwartz said he had heard about and seen information pertaining to the Fisher material, but did not look into it further, instead focusing on the allegations against Romei. The defense implied that it was Romei bringing forward the information on Fisher that prompted the arts to bring forward allegations against Romei.
Also under cross, the defense asked about the lead up to the search warrant executed by authorities at Romei's home. Schwartz testified that he told Romei over the phone that he'd like to speak to Romei about the ins and outs of the arts council, and did not inform him that he was going to conduct a search of his home.
Schwartz also said Romei was not hesitant to help when asked in the investigation. The defense also asked if Schwartz was aware that Romei "worked 24/7" for the arts council, and even sought out donors while away at his father's funeral. Schwartz said he was not aware of that.
On the topic of the missing personnel file and the fact that Romei said in the interview that he didn't believe there was one, a second conversation was brought up by the defense. When told by Schwartz the file was missing, Romei apparently responded that was "convenient." Schwartz didn't go any further into that matter, he said.
The proceedings continue Monday morning. Judge Steve Smith told jurors early this week that the trial would not last two weeks.
For a recap of the third day, click here.
For a recap of the second day, click here.
For a recap of the first day, click here.
Live Blog - Follow the Trial as it Happens w/ Steve Fullhart
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