timberland id ‘Star witness’ takes the stand on day two of Fennell trial
Government’s star witness took to the stand Tuesday morning as the trial of Franklin Fennell moved into day two.
Mike Pick, owner of M P Properties in Terre Haute, was called to the stand and spent his morning under direct examination by deputy US Attorneys. We expect cross examination to take place Tuesday afternoon.
Pick confirmed he did tree and stump removal work for the Vigo County School Corporation at the direction of Fennell, who was the Facilities Director at the time.
Pick said he began doing work for the VCSC in April of 2014 with a job at Terre Haute North Vigo High School. Pick described the process for getting the job as like one we’ve heard before with government jobs.
He submitted an estimate for the work, was awarded the job, and submitted an invoice once the work was complete.
Pick says this was the last of his 50 plus jobs with VCSC that was handled this way.
At North, Pick claims he and Fennell were talking by the football bleachers. It was here Pick says Fennell approached him about providing kickbacks to Fennell and Frank Shahadey, who happens to be an old friend of Pick’s.
Pick said the payoff for him was he was to receive more work, as VCSC was placing an added emphasis on how the 28 school campuses were looking. Pick also admitted that his sons got into trouble over drugs, and that Shahadey had helped one of those situations go away.
Pick said he paid Fennell and Shahadey each a $500 kickback from that first job at North, and it came from the profits of the job itself.
From that point forward, Pick said Fennell instructed him to inflate estimates and invoices by the amount of the kickback, usually $1000. Also, estimates and invoices were submitted together before jobs were completed, Pick said.
Pick said Shahadey nicknamed the kickback money “geeb,” which Pick understood was the Arabic word for money.
Pick claims Fennell told him the kickbacks were to be paid the same day as Pick received his check from VCSC, and they were to be paid in cash in the form of $100 bills. Shahadey claimed that made the transaction “untraceable.”
Pick also claims there were three to four jobs in which he was paid for doing no work. Fennell called those “fake invoices” according to Pick’s testimony.
One such job came in May of 2014, when Fennell instructed Pick, according to his testimony, to write up an invoice claiming bridge and walkway repairs at North High School and Honey Creek Middle School. Pick testified he did no such job, but was paid $4,600. That money was split three ways.
It was at this point Pick said he quit working for VCSC “for a few months” because he wasn’t comfortable with fake invoices. However, the work resumed, although testimony didn’t make it clear when his work hiatus took place.
Another such “fake invoice” job took place, according to Pick,
in February of 2015. Pick testified that Fennell asked him to clean gutters and downspouts at Riley Elementary School, a $7,300 job.
The estimate and invoice were submitted together, according to Pick. He claims the day before the job, he was called by Fennell who ordered him not to do the work at Riley. Still, VCSC paid Pick for the job, and they split the check three ways again, per Pick.
As 2015 rolled on, the volume of work increased, according to Pick.
He said he was juggling between four and five jobs at a time for VCSC. He claims the kickbacks also increased. He said both men wanted more money for Spring Break, moving up the kickbacks to $4,500 dollars.
Pick said Fennell and Shahadey spent their breaks in Florida. Pick also claims Fennell used this same technique to help fund a trip to Disney World.
Pick said on one job, Fennell asked him for a $10,000 kickback so he could make a down payment on a house. Pick said he only gave him $5,000, because he was concerned a kickback that large would send up red flags throughout the corporation.
Pick also recalled a call he received while on vacation in Aruba on June 8, 2016, the day the FBI raided VCSC. He at first told the jury he denied the investigators’ allegation. A month later, he took his lawyer to the US Attorney’s office saying he would cooperate.
Part of that cooperation included recording all phone and in person conversation he had with Fennell or Shahadey.
The jury heard from multiple conversations.
Pick pointed out the Fennell we heard in court was not similar to the one he dealt with prior to the raid. Pick testified after the raid, Fennell became very paranoid, claiming the FBI was taping everything they said and constantly watching him. Even Shahadey’s demeanor changed somewhat, according to Pick, saying he told him to “keep his mouth shut.”
Pick said the scheme continued after the raid, except the FBI paid for the kickback to Shahadey and Fennell.
Pick said all of his checks also went into an escrow account to VCSC could recover its money.
“My family appreciates you helping us out,” is what Fennell allegedly said to Mike Pick as Pick paid him a kickback in the parking lot of Terre Haute Savings Bank,
where Fennell sometimes did some paid work (which dried up after the raid).