City Councilman Jack Kelly's one-time campaign treasurer, Andy Teitelman, plans to take the stand today in his own defense for a City Hall federal corruption case. Teitelman is accused, along with his legal clients, developers Hardeep and Ravinder Chawla, of bribing Kelly's former chief of staff, Chris Wright.
The Chawla brothers are Kelly's most generous campaign contributors. Prosecutors say they gave Wright $1,000 and a rent-free apartment in return for help with city agencies and officials. Teitelman is accused of giving Wright free legal services for his divorce, an eviction from the rent-free apartment and a foreclosure on the house he shared with his estranged wife.
Teitelman, who was indicted with Wright and the Chawlas in August, resigned as Kelly's campaign treasurer in December. Check back here for trial updates today.
UPDATE, 10:50 am: We just heard from a trio of character witnesses for Ravinder Chawla, including Joyce Stubbs, former principal of Overbrook High School. Her son is partnered with Chawla on a Roxborough real estate development. “He’s highly credible, with impeccable character," Stubbs said of Chawla. "I’ve always found him to be fair and honest.”
Teitelman just took the stand.
UPDATE, 11:15 am: Teitelman testified that he started doing legal work for the Chawla brothers in 2000 and now runs a law office from their corporate headquarters. Work for the Chawlas takes up about 70 to 80 percent of the time for his two-attorney firm. Teitelman said the Chawlas have lent him money several times to settle outstanding federal and state debts.
"It was a substantial amount," Teitelman testified. "I needed their help to work that out."
UPDATE, 11:50 am: Teitelman's attorney just compared the free legal work with helping out a friend with a flat tire. Teitelman testified that Wright called him a few weeks ago for help with a flat. Travel time and work on the tire took about 90 minutes. "Did you charge Chris for that," defense attorney Bill DeStefano asked. "No," Teitelman answered with a laugh.
On a more serious note, Teitelman described sitting Wright down with Kelly in 2005, telling him he needed help with his drinking. Wright's mother had just died and his marriage was falling apart. “It was a combination of his mother’s health, the difficulty in his marriage that started leading him down a bad path," Teitelman testified. "It became apparent to those who cared about him that he needed to do something.”
UPDATE, 12:25 pm: Teitelman just said he sent Wright a bill for $350 in January 2008 for legal services, aware that they were both under investigation. Teitelman said he was in a "quandary," worried about the investigation.
"I wanted to be safe rather than be sorry so I sent the bill," Teitelman said. "I can’t tell you what it’s like to go through this experience. I didn’t know what to do. If they’re saying it’s illegal, I might as well charge him. I didn’t want to charge him. But I didn’t want to take any chances.”
UPDATE, 2:15 pm: Cross-examination has started. Teitelman just testified that he didn't pay his taxes for four or five years and owned the IRS $145,000. The Chawlas loaned him more than $100,000 to start making payments, which he started after the IRS contacted him in the fall of 2007. By then, he knew he was under investigation with the Chawlas and Wright.
UPDATE, 2:30 pm: Teitelman just denied pressuring Wright for help with city issues, despite being told to review a series of e-mails where he issues what seem to be curt instructions on things he wanted done. "I have never pushed him to do anything," testified Teitelman, who has said his financial and legal help for Wright had nothing to do with constituent services being provided to the Chawlas from Kelly's City Hall office.
UPDATE, 3 pm: We're on a break and attorneys for the defense and prosecution are in the judge's chambers. That appears to be a continuing discussion on defense complaints about the behavior of one juror, who they say has alternately fallen asleep or glared at them during the trial. Before the break, Teitelman denied that he paid his back taxes because he knew he was under investigation with Wright.
“It’s an unfortunate coincidence that the government decided to have this investigation at that time," Teitelman said. "This investigation has nothing to do with me paying my taxes."
UPDATE, 3:20 pm: Something odd is happening -- the attorneys just came back from the judge's chambers and court officers have told everyone in the courtroom that they are not allowed to leave. They cite an order from the judge. Seems like one of the jurors is being questioned by the judge in his chambers.
UPDATE, 3:30 pm: The defendants and their families are milling about, complaining about the juror in question. The defense attorneys were just called back to the judge's chambers.
UPDATE, 3:52 pm: PhillyClout just heard that the juror has been removed from the panel.
UPDATE, 4:05 pm: One of the alternate jurors has replaced the juror who has been dismissed. Teitelman is testifying again.
UPDATE, 4:15 pm: Al Taubenberger, a Republican who ran for mayor of Philadelphia last year, just took the stand, called by Wright's defense attorney. Taubenberger, a board member of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, testified that it was not unusual that Wright asked for information about a plot of PPA property being sold in Center City. Ravinder Chawla bid on the property but lost out to another buyer.
UPDATE, 5:55 pm: The defense rested after Taubenberger's testimony. Closing arguments are expected to start tomorrow at 11 a.m. The judge told the jury they may start deliberating tomorrow afternoon.