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Patricia Cornwell testifies in suit vs. her accounting firm

Patricia Cornwell after her day on the stand in federal court.

Steven Senne/Associated Press

Patricia Cornwell after her day on the stand in federal court.

Best-selling crime novelist ­Patricia Cornwell testified Thursday that she was never aware her former financial management firm had invested her money in an “aggres­sive growth” fund against her wishes and that her signature on a financial document had been forged.

Cornwell, taking the stand for the first time in her federal lawsuit against the firm and its former principal, said she had told Evan Snapper and his colleagues at ­Anchin, Block & Anchin that she was earning enough money and wanted to invest conservatively. But she told the jury she later discovered that Anchin had invested some of her fortune in riskier ventures.

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Cornwell is suing the company for negligence, saying it cost her tens of millions of dollars in losses or unaccounted revenue from 2005 to 2009. Over that span, Cornwell earned close to $100 million, but brought legal action after finding that her net worth was far less than expected.

Under questioning from her lawyer, Joan Lukey, Cornwell, 56, said she paid little attention to her finances, and rarely looked closely at investment ­reports. But when she reviewed a summary of her expenses in 2007, she was dismayed to learn Anchin was billing her twice, once for business expenses and once for personal.

“We were unnerved,” said Cornwell, referring to herself and her wife. “We were concerned and upset we weren’t notified.”

Cornwell said she had agreed to pay Anchin $40,000 a month, but that the bills often ran much higher. Anchin paid itself directly from her account.

In a sharply worded e-mail to Snapper, Cornwell called the fees “stunning and unacceptable” and said she was angry she had not been notified of the increase.

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In her testimony, which came as the trial nears the end of its fifth week, Cornwell said she entrusted Snapper with wide responsibility over her ­finances, including “all real ­estate transactions.”

Earlier this week, Snapper said he did not personally benefit from handling Cornwell’s fortune, saying, “I did not steal any money from anyone.”

Snapper testified that he and Cornwell had many discussions about “risk tolerance and investment objectives,” but Cornwell said Thursday that she did not recall any.

Lukey also sought to dispel the defense’s assertions that Cornwell had spent large sums on a lavish lifestyle, contending that a small fraction of her ­income was spent on luxury items and that much of her spending was necessary for her research and writing.

For example, while writing a novel she would usually stay in the city where it was set, she said.

“To me, location is a character,” she said. “If I’m going to have [her main character] in Savannah, I’m going to need to live and breathe that area.”

In that vein, Lukey asked Cornwell if she had an expensive wedding when she married in 2006.

“No,” Cornwell said, “just did the Justice of the Peace thing.”

Cornwell also testified that when she shifted her money to Anchin in late 2004, she was told that she was $10 million in debt and that her staff had left the books “a mess.”

But she later learned that her financial situation at the time was actually quite strong, with some $27 million in ­assets.

Cornwell said she had held another woman responsible for “destroying my business,” but apologized when she learned the truth.

Explaining why she had lived so many places over the years, Cornwell said she was very sensitive to noise and was easily distracted.

“When there is a problem with my environment, I have to go somewhere else, or I won’t get my work done,” she said.

In one residence where she lived while her home was under construction, she was distracted by neighbors who would drop by, she said.  “These were all very nice people,” she said. “But I wasn’t there to socialize.”

She later rented a Manhattan apartment for $40,000 a month. Snapper had testified that he was proud of finding such a nice place so quickly, but Cornwell said she couldn’t under­stand why it cost so much. “It was not my taste,” she said. “It was gaudy.”

She drew laughs from the gallery when she described the bathroom, which included a toilet at the top of several stairs. She wanted to have the room “child-proofed,” she quipped.

Unable to find a setting where she could concentrate, Cornwell said she grew nervous as her deadline for her next book neared.

“I was lost and adrift,” she said. “This was very destabilizing. I did not know what the book was about anymore.”

Snapper had earlier testified that he had reimbursed himself from Cornwell’s account for a political contribution at her behest. Cornwell said she did not authorize the donation.

At the end of the day’s testimony, Cornwell faced brief questioning from Anchin’s lawyer, who showed her that the firm had disclosed the allocation in two financial reports.

“There's absolutely no effort to hide this,” James Campbell said.

“It’s what I call hiding something in plain view,” she said.

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.

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