A former lawyer for Joan M. Booth, a key official of a Youth Pride Inc. spinoff company, testified in a court hearing yesterday that he repeatedly explained to her the meaning of an indictment against her before she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the government.
Grandison E. Hill, answering questions posed by U.S. District Judge John Garrett Penn, described a series of meetings he had with Booth to go over each count of the indictment.
At times, he testified, Booth broke into tears as they discussed the allegations that she conspired with her sister, Mary Treadwell, and others to steal thousands of dollars from the federally financed housing project they managed.
When prosecutors in the case presented a possible plea bargain, Hill said, "We went through the offer. We checked it off point by point. She said it was workable."
Booth pleaded guilty last October, telling the judge, "I understand that what I did was wrong." At that point, Hill said yesterday, "It became evident to me that my client had decided to come in and tell the truth."
Booth now has another lawyer.
Earlier this month, Booth told Judge Penn she had not fully understood the guilty plea and had not discussed all aspects of it with Hill. Her current attorney, Thomas Abbenante, said at that earlier hearing that Booth did not want to withdraw her plea, but to "clarify certain facts."
Booth originally pleaded guilty to conspiring with Treadwell, Charles W. Rinker Jr. and Robert E. Lee, all officials of the Youth Pride spinoff company, P.I. Properties. Now, Abbenante said at the hearing earlier this month, Booth "denies ever conspiring with anyone else except Lee."
Government attorneys argued that amounted to changing her plea and said if the plea were changed, the case would have to go to trial.
Yesterday's hearing was held on the question of whether the statements amounted to a change of plea and, if so, whether that would be allowed. The judge issued no ruling.
At the earlier hearing, Booth told Penn that she had pleaded guilty partly in fear that a trial would produce untrue allegations that she had had sexual relationships with government officials to benefit P.I. Properties.
But Hill said yesterday he had told his client that government prosecutors had assured him there was little likelihood the issue would arise.
In one meeting between Booth and prosecutor William D. Pease, the question of sex was raised, Hill said.
"She vehemently denied the allegations," he said.