Politicians testify in Katopodis trial

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The names and faces of several Birmingham and Jefferson County elected officials was heard all throughout this fourth day of the john Katopodis federal fraud trial. The U.S. government accused Katopodis of stealing money from his charity, Computer Help for Kids, and using it for his own personal needs.

Jefferson County commission president Bettye Fine Collins told jurors that in 2001, she did consulting work for another one of Katopodis' non-profit organizations, Council for Cooperating Governments. The group's mission was to get a high rail system that would run from New Orleans, through Birmingham and up the east coast. Collins says Katopodis paid her $10,000 for spreading the word throughout government groups about the need for such a system. Collins also said she approved the Jefferson County commission giving money to Katopodis' computer charity, and she says she even got computers for high school's and senior citizen senior centers throughout her area.

Thursday afternoon, Birmingham city council president Carole Smitherman took the stand. She says in 2006, Katopodis called her out of the blue and invited her to a conference for women in politics in Cairo, Egypt. Smitherman says she told Katopodis she couldn't afford the $5,000 fee, and says that's when he suggested she use discretionary council funds. Smitherman says when she told him she couldn't do that, Katopodis offered to pay for the trip with his credit card. Smitherman says she eventually turned down the offer, saying it wouldn't be good for her, as an elected official, to attend the conference and she felt Katopodis was being pushy about the matter. She says when she told Katopodis she wasn't going, he got angry and hung up on her.

Also on Thursday, a witness who works for Southwest Airlines testified that Katopodis paid for several airline tickets with charity money, including one he bought for Jefferson County commissioner Shelia Smoot in January, 2005. The witness said the trip was actually taken in June of that year to New Orleans.

Also on the stand was Jonathan Pohmel, a naval officer who says Katopodis was like a father figure to him over the years. Pohmel says Katopodis gave him thousands of dollars to help support his military career, pay for wedding expenses and many other requests. Prosecutors say that money too, came from money to support "Computer Help for Kids".

Pohmel also recalled trying to sell his 1965 Chevy Camaro in June 2003. He says Katopodis arranged a deal with current Birmingham mayor Larry Langford to pay $4,000 for the car. Pohmel says all he received from Langford was a celebrity autographed guitar appraised at $350. He says he told Katopodis about the "exchange", and said he wanted his money back. Pohmel says in October Katopodis deposited $4,000 into his account. Pohmel says the guitar remains in his garage.