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ABSCAM Trials: 1980 & 1981

Four-way Conspiracy, Untrustworthy Witness, Influential Senator Charged, Warning From Bench, No Acquittals

Defendants: First trial: Howard L. Criden, Angelo J. Errichetti, Louis C. Johanson, and Michael J. Myers; Second trial: Alexander Feinberg and Harrison A. Williams, Jr.
Crimes Charged: Bribery and conspiracy
Chief Defense Lawyers: First trial: Richard Ben-Veniste, Ray Brown, Plato Cacheris, and John Duffy; Second trial: Harry C. Batchelder, Jr. and George J. Koeizer
Chief Prosecutors: Edward A. McDonald and Thomas P. Puccio
Judge: George C. Pratt
Place: New York, New York
Dates of Trials: August 11-31, 1980; March 30-May 1, 1981
Verdicts: Guilty
Sentences: First trial: Myers: 3 years imprisonment, $20,000 fine; Errichetti: 6 years imprisonment, $40,000 fine; Johanson: 3 years imprisonment, $20,000 fine; Criden: 6 years imprisonment, $40,000 fine; Second trial: Williams: 3 years imprisonment, $50,000 fine; Feinberg: 3 years imprisonment, $40,000 fine

SIGNIFICANCE: The sting operation that became known as ABSCAM worked beyond the government's wildest expectations. No previous federal investigation had bagged so many highly placed corrupt political figures or produced so many trials.

In 1978, undercover FBI agents and convicted swindler Melvin Weinberg began posing as American representatives of wealthy Arab businessmen eager to make sizable investments in the United States. Under the auspices of a company called "Abdul Enterprises Limited" (from which the name ABSCAM derived), they let it be known that their clients were willing to pay heavily for influence and favors, especially visas from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The first politician snared was U.S. Congressman Michael J. Myers, who was videotaped accepting a $50,000 bribe.

As ABSCAM spread its tentacles and word of easy money circulated, more and more politicians fell prey, including U.S. Senator Harrison A. Williams, Jr., and five other congressmen. Geographical considerations and the sheer number of defendants necessitated several trials. The first began in Brooklyn, New York, on August 11, 1980, before Judge George C. Pratt.

In opening his case, Thomas P. Puccio, who would handle most of the ABSCAM prosecutions, brought to the stand Anthony Amorosa, a federal undercover agent. Amorosa and Weinberg had run the sting in a New York hotel room. That videotaped transaction was played to the packed, hushed courtroom. Amorosa handed Myers an envelope containing $50,000, saying, "Spend it well." Myers, who sat next to fellow defendant Mayor Angelo J. Errichetti of Camden, New Jersey, boasted of the influence he wielded in Congress. "As leader of the Philadelphia delegation, I control four and then six when we go into state matters … I'm going to tell you something real simple and short-money talks in this business … and it works the same way down in Washington."

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980