Architect of the May Street project refused to sign developer James Levin’s reimbursement form
WORCESTER – The architect developer James E. Levin hired for the 5 May Street rehabilitation project said in federal court Monday that he never signed a reimbursement form on Levin’s behalf for the sake of integrity of the process.
Steven Petitpas, a longtime Boston architect, testified that he refused to sign the first reimbursement form sent to him after noticing an inaccurate statement and that he was never asked again to approve any similar forms.
“You can’t certify (a job) that hasn’t been done, because you shouldn’t be paid for it,” Petitpas told jurors.
The architect’s testimony was offered in support of the government’s claim that Levin, with the help of the city’s former senior housing official, Jacklyn M. Sutcivni, improperly received reimbursement from ” approximately $ 2 million in federal rehabilitation funds for work it did not do in 2010 and 2011..
Levin was supposed to do some rehabilitation work on the 13-unit structure and then claim federal reimbursement, but admitted to filing fraudulent claims instead for work that had not yet been done.
Levin pleaded guilty to several associated fraud charges last year. Sutcivni, accused of the same offenses, is on trial.
Prosecutors alleged that Sutcivni, who the city fired in 2012, conspired with Levin by knowingly forwarding the fraudulent reimbursement requests for approval.
Emails filed into evidence last week show the city’s accounting officials rejected a reimbursement claim from Levin in July 2010 after noticing that his architect was missing a signature.
The emails showed Sutcivni had written to Levin’s personal attorney and asked him to sign Levin for the architect.
“I understand that Jim is not an architect and that this request seems odd,” Sutcivni wrote, adding that the process is designed to save the city from having to thoroughly certify expenses.
“Believe me, you don’t want my budget department trying to ‘certify’ all expenses,” Sutcivni wrote. “It’s really just a thing for documentation purposes, in the event of an audit.”
The email chain said Levin’s attorney thanked Sutcivni, had the document signed by Levin, and resubmitted it. None of the emails addressed the subject of Petitpas’ refusal to sign the document.
After Levin signed the form, the city issued the refund check, one of many such checks that prosecutors allege were issued on the basis of fraud.
An FBI special agent who testified last week said Sutcivni told her during questioning in 2012 that she “sort of” asked Levin how to fill out the reimbursement forms. Officer Albert Lamoreaux said Sutcivni told him the particular forms used were not ideal for the May 5 Street project.
Lamoreaux testified that Sutcivni told him that Levin spent the money he was reimbursed for, but that it was for other costs that had arisen, not for what he had certified.
She alleged that she and other city officials were aware of a “funding gap” that had occurred and were trying to “work around it”. Sutcivni attempted to help Levin secure more funding for the project, according to the records filed in evidence.
Emails filed in evidence last week showed an intimate relationship between Sutcivni and Levin, with prosecutors claiming evidence indicated that she sometimes used a personal email instead of an email from the city to correspond .
FBI Agent: Sutcivni told him that she and Levin were “close friends”
John Van Kleeff, an FBI agent who took over the case after Lamoreaux retired, said Monday that Sutcivni told him that she and Levin were “close friends” during an interrogation in 2016.
Van Kleeff said Sutcivni, as she sat in lawn chairs at her home in Dracut, knowing she was under investigation, told her that she and Levin contacted each other on a daily basis.
Van Kleeff said Sutcivni admitted mistakes were made during the May 5 Street project, but did not specify what those mistakes were.
Van Kleeff said Sutcivni – contradicting what she had told Lamoreaux four years earlier – told her she does not inspect 5 May Street every time a refund request is made.
He said Sutcivni told him that there were state and federal inspectors who also visited the property, but that she couldn’t remember their names.
Missing workbook with names
He said Sutcivni made reference to names in a construction binder kept at Town Hall. Van Kleeff said he discovered emails showing city officials were looking for, but couldn’t find, the filing cabinet.
Van Kleeff said on Monday that he, like Lamoreaux, asked Sutcivni about a condo she bought from Curtis Mueller, an original business partner with Levin on the May Street project.
Prosecutors have suggested that Levin organized the sale to help Sutcivni meet a requirement that she live in the city after being promoted to a high-level managerial position.
Mueller granted Sutcivni a private mortgage of $ 120,000 on the condo, which she never moved into, agents testified, although he listed it as his home with the city.
Van Kleeff said on Monday that Sutcivni, when asked about Mueller’s connection to Levin, called him an “unpaid intern” for the developer.
Sutcivni, the agent said, told him that she paid Mueller about $ 4,000 in mortgage on the condo before selling it back to him in 2013.
Van Kleeff said when he asked Sutcivni about the ethics surrounding his condo purchase, she told him that she disclosed it to the city but was not sure whether she had completed the paperwork correctly related.
Levin under financial pressure
In addition to continuing to highlight the condo purchase, prosecutors on Monday continued to present evidence regarding the financial hardship suffered by Levin at the time of the fraud.
During the same time he was wrestling with the May 5 Street project, Levin suffered catastrophic flooding at another property he was trying to renovate, the former Boys & Girls Club on Ionic Avenue.
The January 2011 flood, which dumped 30,000 gallons of water over 40,000 square feet in the 1914 building, cost more than $ 1 million in repairs, according to a consultant’s report filed Monday.
The Department of Environmental Protection separately sent Levin an invoice for $ 127,000 relating to the work he did in response to the flooding, evidence filed Monday showed.
The Ionic Avenue building, which Levin was unable to renovate, is one of many distressed properties Sutcivni had suggested to the developer as opportunities.
Sutcivni attorney Frank C. Corso noted Monday that city officials other than Sutcivni finally signed a loan of $ 350,000 that Levin received for the Ionic Avenue project.
Petitpas, the architect for 5 May Street, testified on Monday that he stopped working for Levin in May 2011, when the pace of work stopped.
Petitpas said that by asking Levin what was going on, the developer told him that the project “had not been or was not funded”.
The architect said he had never in 40 years had another project that came to a halt during construction due to funding issues. He estimated the project to be somewhere between one-third and one-half of completion as of May 2011.
“I didn’t have a good feeling for him,” Petitpas said of Levin, adding that he “looked like a salesman.”
Also testified on Monday was Robert M. Shaw Jr., an architect who worked for the city between June 2009 and November 2010.
Shaw testified that he generally inspects properties to ensure that the work performed matched the claims for reimbursement.
He said he only went to 5 May Street once before he was fired by the city after a federal grant that paid his salary dried up.
Shaw said that before he left he noticed a dumpster outside the site and inquired about it from Levin, but the developer and Sutcivni told him that the background work had failed. not started yet.
Shaw testified that he prepared a report in the summer of 2010 in which he estimated the construction cost of the refurbishment to be approximately $ 1 million.
Sutcivni’s defense team will present their case after the prosecution is over. Government lawyers said last week that they hoped to complete their case by the end of this week.
The testimony will resume on Tuesday.
Contact Brad Petrishen at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BPetrishenTG.
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