Cisneros's Ex-Mistress Pleads Guilty
By Toni Locy
Linda Jones, the ex-mistress of former housing secretary Henry Cisneros, pleaded guilty yesterday in Lubbock, Tex., to 28 felony counts including conspiracy and bank fraud and agreed to serve 3 1/2 years in prison for lying about the purchase of a home with hush money Cisneros paid her to keep their affair secret.
Although Jones's agreement with independent counsel David M. Barrett does not include cooperation or require her to testify against her former lover in a case pending before him in Washington, her attorneys did not rule out that prospect in the future.
"It's possible," said Sam Ogan, a federal public defender in Lubbock who is representing Jones. "It's always a possibility, but it's not part of this agreement."
Tearful and sobbing, Jones entered the guilty plea as her trial was about to begin. The day before, U.S. District Judge Sam Cummings rejected defense arguments that Jones isn't emotionally stable enough to stand trial.
"This has been a long, difficult process for her," said David Guinn, another public defender representing Jones. "To save her family and friends from going through a long and difficult trial, she reached an agreement with the government."
Guinn said Jones, who formerly went by the name of Medlar, was motivated to reach a deal with prosecutors for fear of serving eight years in prison -- the term she would have faced under federal sentencing guidelines if she were convicted of all charges against her in Lubbock, including money laundering.
While Jones has addressed those charges, she still faces a separate indictment in Washington in which she and Cisneros are accused of lying about $250,000 in payments he made to her over several years. Both cases were brought by the independent counsel, but the Lubbock case dealt primarily with how she spent some of the money Cisneros paid her. The Washington case centers on the broader issue of their relationship and how they allegedly tried to hide it.
In the Washington case, Jones is charged with conspiracy and making a false statement. Like Cisneros, she faces a Nov. 4 trial.
Though Jones herself did not agree to cooperate with prosecutors as part of her plea, her sister and brother-in-law did. The agreements of Patsy Wooten, 55, and Allen Wooten, 58, specifically require them to testify against an unnamed family member. The Wootens admitted that they knew Cisneros was the source of the money for the house and that they helped conceal that by lying -- at Jones's request -- when they told a bank that they were the true buyers and planned to live there.
Attorney Roger Adelman, who represents Jones in the Washington case, declined to comment.
Cisneros's attorney, Brendan V. Sullivan Jr., did not return a phone call yesterday. A spokeswoman said he has a policy of not commenting on pending cases.
Jones, 48, began cooperating with the independent counsel shortly after he was appointed in May 1995 to investigate whether Cisneros, 50, lied to the FBI about payments he allegedly made to Jones during and after their lengthy affair.
But within a year, prosecutors became suspicious of her. In September 1996, investigators executed a search warrant at her Lubbock home -- a clear signal that a rift had developed between the special prosecutor and his star witness.
Last year, a grand jury in Lubbock indicted Jones and the Wootens, charging them with bank fraud, money laundering and conspiring to conceal Cisneros's contributions to the purchase of the home.
According to Jones's plea agreement, Cisneros gave Jones $16,000 to use as a down payment on the house at the time President Clinton was considering whether to nominate Cisneros as secretary of housing and urban development.
By paying her, the court documents said, Cisneros placated her because he knew that if she went public and disclosed the payments, his nomination as a Cabinet secretary would have been jeopardized.
After the Wootens had the mortgage on the house placed in their names, Jones moved in. She paid the mortgage with money from Cisneros, according to her plea agreement. When Cisneros stopped paying her, she received money from her mother for the payments.
By early 1995, both Cisneros and Jones's mother were no longer giving her money, and she was unable to make the mortgage payments. Foreclosure proceedings were begun, but Jones arranged to sell the house at a modest profit.
In both the Washington and Lubbock cases, Jones also was charged with lying to the FBI when she said she had given the Internal Revenue Service original tapes of conversations with Cisneros that she had secretly recorded. According to her plea agreement in Lubbock, Jones gave the IRS edited copies of the tapes and kept the originals in a safe-deposit box.
Jones is free on bond, and a sentencing date has not yet been set. At that time, Cummings will decide whether he will approve the plea bargain, Ogan said. If the judge refuses, Jones will be able to back out of the agreement, the public defender said.
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