Ithaca, N.Y. — Laureen Hamilton was given a debit card for union business.

Why I shop downtown — Marty

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She wasn’t told what to do with it. Hamilton, 52, testified in court Wednesday that she wasn’t given either verbal or written instructions for the card’s use.

Police say Hamilton knowingly charged thousands of dollars in unauthorized expenses to the Ithaca City School District’s Educational Support Professionals union while the union’s president. (The ESP union represents paraprofessionals such as teachers’ aides and classroom assistants, reported.)

But, putting his client on the stand in a trial in Tompkins County Court, defense attorney James Hickey tried showing the jurors that Hamilton didn’t do anything intentionally wrong.

Hamilton, who has been charged with felony grand larceny, admitted that she accidentally charged personal GEICO payments and NYSEG bills to the union debit card.

“Apart from the GEICO and the NYSEG and maybe the cash withdrawal,” said Hickey, the defense attorney, “At the time you made these expenditures, as far as you know, were any of them unauthorized?”

The answer from Hamilton: No, to her knowledge, they weren’t unauthorized.

And, Hickey continued about the other expenditures, “Did you ever have the intent to appropriate any of that money to yourself?”

Again the answer came back: No.

Hamilton took the stand after Ithaca police Senior Investigator Mike Gray testified Wednesday morning. During Gray’s testimony, prosecutors played a video in which Hamilton appeared to admit to knowingly making unauthorized expenditures in an interview at Ithaca police headquarters.

Defense attorney Hickey tried poking holes in that account, suggesting the video showed Gray unfairly asking and framing his questions.

Hickey also noted that Hamilton has worked in daycare, has no criminal record and has never been arrested.

The assistant district attorney questioned many of Hickey’s assumptions during his following cross-examination of Hamilton. In particular, he sought to show that many of Hamilton’s expenditures — including an air conditioner that didn’t fit the union’s office — appeared to be for her personal use.

The case will resume Thursday.

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.