Defense Concludes Summation at Biaggi Case; Attacks Meese Again
NEW YORK (AP) _ Rep. Mario Biaggi’s defense lawyer took a final swing at Attorney General Edwin Meese III in closing arguments at the Wedtech corruption trial Wednesday, calling Meese ″a crook″ and the case against the congressman ″a frame.″
Attorney James LaRossa’s remarks sparked a bitter exchange with prosecutors while the jury was out of the room.
Biaggi, D-N.Y., and six others are accused of a racketeering conspiracy that turned Wedtech Corp. - a now-bankrupt military contractor - into a cash cow that paid out millions of dollars in bribes to obtain no-bid government contracts.
But a cornerstone of the defense case has been the theory that four corrupt Wedtech executives who testified for the government had links to White House insiders like Meese and did not need to bribe Biaggi.
″If these four people from Wedtech knew that they had an open door to the White House,″ said LaRossa, ″you tell me what they needed Mario Biaggi for. Extra baggage?″
In his closing argument to the jury last week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward J. Little sought to defuse the so-called ″Meese defense″ by conceding ″Meese is a sleaze″ but insisting that it had no bearing on Biaggi’s alleged crimes.
But LaRossa, the last defense attorney to sum up before the jury, said the case was really about Meese.
″Sleaze is not enough. We’re talking about a crook. We’re talking about a man who today sits in a building with that eagle in front of it,″ LaRossa said, pointing to the Great Seal above the judge’s bench, ″the attorney general of the United States. He got promoted for being a crook.″
Meese has not been charged with any wrongdoing but has admitted getting key aides to help Wedtech win an Army contract while he was White House counselor.
Meese was under scrutiny for some time because of his Wedtech connections, but a special prosecutor in Washington, James C. McKay, determined there was insufficient evidence to charge Meese with wrongdoing. However, McKay questioned the attorney general’s ethics on several issues.
Meese has said he will leave office later this summer.
″You don’t think Ed Meese wants you to convict Mario Biaggi?″ LaRossa asked the jury. ″He’d throw a party if you did.″
At another point he said Wedtech obtained the Army contract without Biaggi’s help, adding the case against Biaggi ″is a phony, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a frame.″
LaRossa also attacked the four cooperating Wedtech officials - Fred Neuberger, Mario Moreno, Anthony Guariglia and Lawrence Shorten - as ″vultures″ who ″lived for money.″
All four pleaded guilty to state and federal corruption charges and testified in exchange for leniency. All four also admitted to stealing millions of dollars from the company when they weren’t trying to cheat the government or each other.
Little bitterly protested LaRossa’s comments about Meese to the judge during a recess with the jury out of the room.
LaRossa claimed he meant the four cooperating Wedtech witnesses were framing Biaggi - not the prosecution.
But the defense attorney stuck to his prediction of a post-conviction celebration by Meese.
″Meese created the swindle that led to the indictment,″ LaRossa said during the exchange, insisting that a Biaggi conviction ″will take his participation in Wedtech away from the public.″
Little accused LaRossa of ″poisoning″ the jury’s mind and ″leaving them with the impression that Meese is behind this case.″
″I will stipulate that Meese engaged in improper conduct in connection with this case and I said so in my summation,″ said Little, adding that LaRossa was hinting Meese, somehow, was behind Biaggi’s indictment.
″Your argument is deceptive,″ Little told LaRossa, who shot back: ″Maybe you’d also like me to put a bound over my mouth so I won’t talk. That might also be more helpful to you.″
The prosecution was slated to present its rebuttal argument to the jury Thursday, paving the way later this week for the judge’s instruction on the law to jurors and the start of deliberations in the four-month-old trial.