The former director of a Washington job-training program pleaded guilty yesterday in U.S. District Court to embezzling federal funds and to obtaining funds for trainees who had left the program.
In an unusual move, Eric G. Sewell, 48, once the executive director of the D.C. Institute for Careers in Tourism, interrupted the fourth day of his trial on 31 counts of embezzlement and making false statements to federal officials and pleaded guilty to four of the counts.
A federal grand jury indicted Sewell last July on charges that he embezzled or misapplied thousands of dollars in federal funds that his institute had obtained through the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act from July 1977 to September 1978. The money allegedly was used to pay for such things as Sewell's bills and dues at an exclusive private club, a courier service to deliver cigars to him, a limousine service, and trips around the country and to Jamaica.
Prosecutors Harry Benner and J. Herbie DiFonzo told the jury at the trial that Sewell had funneled about $60,000 in CETA funds intended for the job-training program to his own private companies, including $45,000 to the Tourism Foundation, a separate company headed by Sewell. Sewell also allegedly used $2,265 in CETA funds for his private real estate investment business and another $1,546 for credit card bills with Diner's Club and Carte Blanche, according to the indictment.
The federal program, administered by the Labor Department, funded public service job-training programs for unemployed and poor persons. Sewell's tourism institute, which was located at 1010 16th St. NW, received a total grant of $370,000 through a contract with the D.C. Department of Manpower. The contract was terminated in October 1978, shortly after trainees alleged wrongdoing by administrators.
Judge John Lewis Smith Jr. dismissed the jurors after accepting Sewell's plea to four counts in the indictment, including two counts of making false statements to receive checks for persons no longer enrolled and two counts of using federal funds to purchase a $178 leather attache case for himself and $295 to pay for a speedreading course he took.
Smith released Sewell pending sentencing next month on the charges. Sewell faces a maximum of 14 years in prison and fines up to $40,000 as a result of his plea.
Sewell's attorney, Robert Watkins, declined comment on the case but said his client was "destitute" and that if a fine were imposed, Sewell, a former D.C. businessman who ran a travel agency, "just couldn't pay it."