WORCESTER – When asked from the federal court’s stand on Thursday whether he regretted meeting developer James E. Levin, Chris Killam didn’t hesitate.
“Yes,” the Holden electrician replied, giving his answer before a lawyer who didn’t like the question raised their objection.
Killam, a licensed electrician since 1987, was the first man Levin hired to manage an affordable housing project on May 5th Street in 2010, which led to indictments against the contractor and senior city official overseeing the project.
Levin is serving a 37-month federal prison sentence after admitting asking for $ 2 million in federal funds for a job he never finished.
As the first project manager on site, Killam testified at length Thursday about concerns about the young job that eventually led him to quit amid suspicions that Levin was being investigated.
“I realized he was not being honest with me,” Killam told the jury when he asked Levin directly in June 2011 if he was being investigated.
Killam’s suspicions were confirmed months later when the FBI knocked on his door and asked for documents. He said he gave the agents everything he had and later saw an invoice for the work stamped with his name, which he supposedly had not prepared.
Prosecutors allege Levin – with the help of Sutcivni, the city’s chief housing officer at the time – submitted fraudulent reimbursement forms so that he could get paid for work he never did.
Sutcivni, an FBI officer testified on Wednesday, told the bureau that Levin had always intended to complete the project and that she and other city officials agreed to “work around” funding problems that arose in order to complete the building.
Sutcivni’s lawyers try to cast doubt
Sutcivni’s lawyers have tried to cast doubt on the idea that a woman alone could facilitate such fraud and have labeled the affair a collective government failure.
Frank C. Corso found during cross-examination of FBI agent Albert Lamoreaux on Thursday that the first check issued to Levin for the project had numerous signatures, including that of former City Manager Michael V. O’Brien.
O’Brien, who fired Sutcivni in 2012, found at the time that the city had opened the investigation into her departure, a statement that supports Lamoreaux’s statement.
Corso noted Thursday that while the paperwork related to the approval process had room for multiple signatures, many of them were left blank and signed mostly by Sutcivni who were then signed by Jacklyn Vachon-Jackson.
Vachon-Jackson changed her last name to Sutcivni – Latin for “invincible” – a year before she filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2013.
While Corso’s questions were designed to cast doubt on the city’s oversight policy, several witnesses – including the regional director of the federal agency that ran the housing funds – said they understood Sutcivni to be the city’s decision maker.
Killam testified that when Levin began working, he introduced Sutcivni as the person who oversaw them and helped them comply with federal mandates.
Developer overwhelmed with job
Killam said the 13-unit condominium project was the largest either he or Levin was involved in, and was consistent with the previous statement in Levin’s case that the developer was “above his head” with the job.
Government attorneys have found that most of the work that was done on the project was done by companies affiliated with Levin. When asked this Thursday, Killam said Levin told him he started his own company, Coat of Arms Construction, because he believed he could do the job for much less money than offers from outside companies.
Killam, who had done electrical work for Levin at multiple locations, said the developer asked him to lead the project and he agreed. He described Levin as a micromanager who made all the decisions – often those that Killam and other workers didn’t like.
Killam said Levin was redirecting a lot of workers to other projects he had – construction workers were hired in some cases to blow snow off the site – and constantly seemed to keep the design for May 5th St.
In the summer of 2011, the project lagged far behind, Killam said, and he had concerns not only about the pace, but also about Levin.
Killam receives information leading him to Levin for an FBI investigation
In June, he recalled receiving information that led him to believe that Levin may be under investigation by the FBI.
“No way,” he remembered Levin telling him. He didn’t believe him.
So, despite putting his regular customers on hold for months to take the job, Killam quit and walked away before any serious electrical work was ever done.
When looking at photos of a raid the FBI made on the building about a year later, Killam told the jury that the building looked largely as it was when he left it.
According to Lamoreaux, Sutcivni said Levin suffered many ancillary costs that drove up the price of the project. She reportedly told the agent that while the work she approved had not yet been carried out, she had receipts showing that Levin actually put the money he received from the government into the building.
Lamoreaux testified on Wednesday that he had never received such documents.
Killam said Thursday that Levin appeared stressed in 2011 and asked him to donate money to buy supplies – a request he thought was strange.
When it came to invoicing, Killam said, Levin had increasingly asked him to be less precise in his descriptions.
Former Boys & Girls Club, 2 Ionic Ave.
Killam testified that in the winter of 2010/2011 there was a massive leak on another property that Levin had taken over, the former Boys & Girls Club on Ionic Ave. 2, had a devastating effect.
Levin told Telegram & Gazette in 2012 that the spill that Killam believed happened because of poor weather protection cost him $ 600,000.
“We spent everything on cleaning up because we’re good corporate citizens,” Levin told T&G at the time.
Levin told T&G in 2012 that the economic consequences of the oil spill, combined with other factors, made his project at the Boys & Girls Club no longer viable.
Killam testified Thursday that he suspected Levin struggled with substance abuse in 2011.
“It blew up every now and then, which was not what it was,” he said. “I suspected that maybe he hit the bottle more often.”
In his memorandum of conviction, Levin acknowledged that he was struggling with alcoholism at the time, a disease he believed to be due to a troubled childhood and genetic makeup.
While Levin’s business dealings have damaged his reputation, the memorandum is full of letters from supporters praising him as a generous man who has helped people in need.
To vouch for his character
Business associates, neighbors, a pantry worker and a sergeant from the Revere police force represented his character and described situations in which he had donated time and money to the needy.
The jury is unlikely to get a chance to hear from Levin himself, as a judge found Wednesday that he had a valid right under the fifth amendment not to testify.
The trial of Sutcivni continues on Friday and is expected to take weeks. Potential witnesses include current or former city officials, including former Assistant City Manager Julie Jacobson.
Jacobson, Lamoreaux testified Tuesday, accompanied Sutcivni to a meeting with the FBI in the summer of 2010 over concerns they had about another officer.
Prosecutors said the person had not been charged and that the FBI investigation had nothing to do with Sutcivni’s trial. They have stated that they expect Sutcivni to bring up the 2010 meeting as a topic.
Sutcivni carried a wire with the officer who was not named, but nothing illegal was discussed, Lamoreaux said.
Contact Brad Petrishen at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BPetrishenTG.