Joseph P. Yeldell, the assertive, blunt-spoken former D.C. human resources chief, told a federal jury yesterday that he had sought help from millionaire Dominic F. Antonelli Jr. because of heavy personal financial problems but had never allowed his ties with Antonelli to influence government decisions.
Testifying at his bribery and conspiracy trial, Yeldell, 46, who is on unpaid leave from his most recent job as a top aide to Mayor Walter E. Washington, repeatedly told the jury that he did not know of Antonelli's interest in purchasing a Northeast Washington building at a time when yeldell's former agency, the Department of Human Resources, started negotiations to rent it. The building was later leased by DHR from a partnership controlled by Antonneli.
Yeldell, speaking rapidly in a loud and firm voice, also repeated his previous assertions that he did not know that Antonelli, a real estate developer and parking company owner, was the source of $33,000 loan that was provided secretly to Yeldell in 1976. The prosecution contends that Antonelli's $33,000 loan to Yeldell was payoff for Yeldell's help in arranging the lease for Antonelli's partnership.
Yeldell - who was dressed stylishly in a light gray plaid three-piece suit, pale yellow shirt and polka-dotted tie with a gold tie clasp shaped in the letter "Y" - appeared relaxed as he testified for more than three hours under questioning by his defense lawyer, John A. Shorter Jr. Yeldell is expected to return to the witness stand today for further questioning by Shorter and cross-examination by federal prosecutors.
At the close of yesterday's U.S. District Court session, Yeldell - in a disply of apparently cheerful spirits - introduced his wife, Gladys, to Earl J. Silbert, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. Both Yeldell's wife and Silbert, whom Yeldell addressed by his first name, were in the courtroom audience. Three assistant U.S. attorneys on Silbert's staff are prosecuting Yeldell and Antonelli.
During Yeldell's testimony, Antonelli alternately studied what appeared to be notes and court documents on a table before him or gazed at his codefendant. Antoneeli's chin rested in one hand.
At times during his initial testimony, Yeldell painted a grim picture of the personal financial problems that confronted him in 1975 and 1976, largely because of his involvement in a private travel business that eventually collapsed. "It looked like the whole world was caving in on me." Yeldell, a stocky man with a mustache and hair graying at the temples, said at one point."I had mortgaged my home to the hilt." He added that he only hoped at the time to scrape together enough money to send his older daughter to college.
At various points, Yeldell's testimony appared either to contradict or to differ sharply from that given previously by other witnesses in the trial, including some of Yeldell's former DHR aides. The prosecution is likely to emphasize these discrepancies during its cross-examination of Yeldell.
Yeldell's statements frequently appeared to parallel those of Antonelli, who had testified Friday and Monday. Both men asserted that they had always kept their personal ties separate from their business and government dealings. "I never mixed any of my personal business with anything dealing with my government responsibilities," Yeldell said yesterday in response to a question from Shorter about Antonelli's help in arranging a loan for Yeldell and Yeldell's actions as DHR director.
Yeldell and Antonelli - both of whom have described themselves as friends of long standing have been charged with engaging in a corrupt conspiracy to arrange a highly profitable DHR lease of the building at 60 Florida Ave. NE from Antonelli's partnership. In return for Yeldell's help in securing the $5.6 million. 20-year lease, Antonelli is alleged to have given Yeldell the secret $33,000 loan after helping him get a series of previous short-term loans from Madison National Bank, in which Antonelli is stockholder and director.
Yeldell's account yesterday of how he obtained the $33,000 loan - now central to the charges on which he is standing trial - closely resembled statements he made in an interview with The Washington Post about 1 1/2 years ago, at the time of a deepening controversy that eventually led to Yeldell's and Antonelli's indictments.
Yeldell told the jury that he was seeking a loan, which he hoped could be secured by a second mortgage on his home, in an effort to pay off two bank debts incurred by his now-defunct private travel business, known as Entrepreneur Travel Associates In. Yeldell said he asked Antonelli in 1976 whether Antonelli knew of what Yeldell descrined as "sources" for second mortgage loans. "He (Antonelli) said he didn't know at that moment, but that he'd look around and see what he could do." Yeldell said.
In April 1975, Yeldell testified, Antonelli told him that such a loan, amounting to $33,000, would be "available" with monthly payments of $330 - about the same payments as Yeldell was then making to a bank on a much smaller second mortgage that he planned to pay off with the larger loan. A second mortgage that he planned to pay off with the larger loan. A second mortgage is a loan secured by part of the value of a house - in this case Yeldell's home. It is less secure for the lender than is a first mortgage, the primary source of home financing. Yeldell testified that he considered the proposed terms of the loan "perfect" and that Antonelli had told him he would be dealing with Lawrence A. Sinclitico, a title insurance company employe.
Sinclitico, according to other testimony, soon arranged the loan in the name of a "straw" - a fictitious person identified in public records as "John Halloran." Yeldell testified that he did not at the time notice or raise any question about who the lender was. He asserted, however, that he did not believe then that the money had come from Antonelli.
"I did not think Mr. Antonelli was in any way involved with the transaction, other than by putting me in contact with the [loan] source," Yeldell told the jury. Antonelli has previously testified that he had provided the $33,000 for Yeldell but had concealed his role in the loan by relying on the "straw" in order to prevent Yeldell from feeling "obligated" to him.
The $33,000 loan to Yeldell was arranged at about the same time as Yeldell's former agency. DHR, reached agreement with Antonelli on the lease for the two-story office building at 60 Florida Ave., NE, according to court testimony.
Yeldell's account of the arrangements for the $33,000 loan differed in one respect from previous testimony given by Sinclitico, the title insurance company employ who handled the transaction.
Sinclitico told the jury last week that he did not know how Yeldell had learned that an initial $657.95 payment for settlement and other costs was due. According to court testimony Yeldell paid the amount by check. Sinclitico testified that he had informed Antonelli that the payment was due, but that he had not notified Yeldell. Yeldell testified yesterday that he was notified by Sinclitico of the required payment in a settlement statement sent to Yeldell's office by the title insurance company along with other loan documents.