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ABSCAM Trials: 1980 & 1981

Four-way Conspiracy

As the tape rolled, the other two defendants, Louis C. Johanson, a Philadelphia City Councilman, and Howard L. Criden, Johanson's former law partner, watched intently. Both were charged with having conspired with Myers and having shared the money. Myers let slip the names of other prominent Washington politicians, though none was ever charged with wrongdoing. Stifled laughter in court greeted Myers' comment when, leaning across confidentially to the agents, he said, "The key is, you got to deal with the right people," adding a moment later, "I feel very comfortable here."

Next came Melvin Weinberg, a colorful character who provided detailed descriptions of the ABSCAM sting and his efforts to help federal agents. In defense estimations Weinberg was the state's weak link, and they set about undermining his credibility in a three-day grilling. John Duffy, appearing for Johanson, set the tone:

"Are you a con man?"

"I don't know. They say I am."

"Have you spent most of your adult life living by your wits?"

"That's correct."

Richard Ben-Veniste, representing Criden, quizzed Weinberg on the scam he had "franchised to con men all over the world."

"We franchised it," shrugged Weinberg, "but not to con men."

"You were like the MacDonald's of con men?"

Weinberg beamed. "That's correct."

When Congressman Michael Myers took the stand, the 37-year-old Democrat was led through some gentle questioning by his attorney, Plato Cacheris. Cacheris' theme, one adopted by most ABSCAM defense lawyers, was that because there had been no criminal intent, there had been no crime. Myers agreed: "No, it wasn't proper that I accepted this money, but I didn't do anything wrong … and didn't intend to do anything wrong … It seemed like a chance to pick up some easy money." Myers explained that he had grossly exaggerated his influence during the course of the meeting to get the money.

Less compelling were his attempts to explain away a second meeting, also captured on tape, at which he received an additional $35,000—paid because after dividing up the original payment with his co-defendants, Myers had been left with just $15,000 and felt "entitled" to more. Myers blamed this verbal indiscretion on two bourbons given him by the undercover agents, causing him to say things he didn't really mean.

Prosecutor Puccio had an easy task on cross-examination. The videotape said it all. Pouncing on Myers' assertions that he meant to take the money and then do nothing in return, he asked, "Congressman Myers, did you think it was dishonest to obtain money by false pretenses?"

"No, I didn't think that this was dishonest."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980ABSCAM Trials: 1980 1981 - Four-way Conspiracy, Untrustworthy Witness, Influential Senator Charged, Warning From Bench, No Acquittals