A second key figure pleaded guilty yesterday to charges in the Washington Teachers' Union scandal, and he said two top union officials directed him to set up a phony company that got union funds.
Michael W. Martin says in court papers that he helped create a firm known as Expressions Unlimited at the request of then-union President Barbara A. Bullock and her executive assistant, Gwendolyn M. Hemphill. Martin is Hemphill's son-in-law. The company sent phony invoices to help Bullock, Hemphill and others pilfer money from union accounts, the papers said.
Martin, 43, whom authorities have described as Bullock's hairstylist and "image consultant," pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon to one count of conspiracy to launder money. The plea calls for a prison term of 37 to 46 months, although prosecutors may ask for the sentence to be reduced if Martin cooperates fully.
Martin's plea was another indication that prosecutors are methodically assembling evidence and witnesses against Hemphill, Bullock and James O. Baxter II, the former union treasurer. The three have not been charged, but prosecutors and the FBI have identified them repeatedly in court filings as major players in the alleged theft of as much as $5 million in union money.
In a five-page statement of facts filed in court yesterday, Martin alleges that Bullock and Hemphill asked that he and business partner Errol Alderman set up the phony company. Alderman worked with Martin at the D.C. Department of Health's HIV/AIDS Administration. He has not been charged in the investigation.
Martin recently resigned as a supervisory programs analyst in the HIV/AIDS office.
Martin and Alderman started the business "at the request of the WTU President and WTU Executive Assistant for the express purpose of using the account to deposit checks written from WTU accounts and, in turn, to write checks . . . back to" Bullock and Hemphill, according to the statement of facts, which was submitted to the court as part of Martin's guilty plea.
That part of the scheme netted at least $480,000 from 2000 to 2002, the document stated. Martin and his wife, Cheryl, used an unspecified share of the money to pay for "personal items and tuition for their children at a private school . . . furniture, a vacation, repairs and maintenance on their personal vehicles, parties in the Martin home, limousine service to Washington Redskins games, and Washington Redskins tickets purchased by WTU," the document says.
Martin responded to Leon's questions yesterday in one- or two-word answers. His only question concerned the revocation of his voting rights because of the guilty plea.
Martin did not speak with reporters after the hearing. But defense attorney Vandy L. Jamison Jr. said Martin "deeply regrets his involvement in this matter."
"He's never been in trouble with the law before, so hopefully he can move beyond this. . . . It's horrifying for him, his family, his two children," Jamison said.
Hemphill's attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., declined to comment. Bullock's attorney, Stephen R. Spivack, did not return phone calls.
Martin, of Bowie, is to remain free pending his sentencing.
Bullock's former chauffeur, Leroy Holmes, pleaded guilty this year to similar charges. He, too, is free while awaiting sentencing.
During yesterday's hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony M. Alexis described Martin's role as setting up a classic front company -- an entity that existed only on paper to shuffle money.
For example, Alexis told Leon, Bullock and Baxter signed a $60,000 check to Expressions Unlimited on Aug. 26, 2000, that Martin deposited in the company's account at Bank of America. Less than two weeks later, on Sept. 5, Martin asked Alderman, his business partner, to write a $55,000 cashier's check on the account, payable to Bullock in her personal capacity, Alexis said.
A week later, Bullock allegedly wrote a $60,000 personal check to her union credit card account, which prosecutors have said she used to help pay for numerous luxury items, including $500,000 worth of clothes.