LLawyers for D.C. mayoral aide Joseph P. Yeldell and millionaire Dominic F. Antonelli Jr. concluded their presentation of evidence in the two men's bribery and conspiracy trial yesterday at the end of protracted and sometimes heated cross-examination of Yeldell by federal prosecutors.
Yeldell's defense lawyer, John A. Shorter, Jr., told a U.S. District Court judge yesterday morning that he had decided not to recall Yeldell to the witness stand and would call no further defense witnesses. Judge Gerhard A. Gesell scheduled closing arguments by the prosecution and the defense for Monday and said he expected to ask the jury to begin considering its verdict on Tuesday.
During the brief court session yesterday morning, Shorter gave no explanation for his decision not to present any additional witnesses in Yeldell's behalf. Afterward, he told reporters, "We just decided we'd just end it there." He asserted that the prosecution had presented a "weak case."
Asked why he had not called any character witnesses for Yeldell - witnesses who would testify about Yeldell's reputation for truthfulness, rather than about other evidence in the trial - Shorter replied, "I've always wondered what the value of that was, Look at Diggs. He went down with it."
His reference was to Rep. Charles C. Diggs Jr. (D-Mich.), who was convicted of mail fraud and illegal payroll kickback earlier this month, despite the testimony of four prominent civil rights leaders who had praised Diggs as a man of great honesty and integrity.
Five character witnesses, including a Catholic priest and Baptist minister, had previously been called to testify in Antonelli's behalf.
When Shorter announced his decision not to call any further witnesses yesterday morning, Yeldell, the city's former human resources director, had completed more than 12 hours on the witness stand during the previous three days.
Under frequently pointed questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard L. Beizer, Yeldell, who is now on unpaid leave from his job as a top aide to Mayor Walter E. Washington, had repeatedly conceded that he had submitted inaccurate financial statements to government and private agencies and that he had misinformed city auditors last year during an investigation of his dealings with Antonelli. Yeldell had also contradicted previous court testimony by other city officials, including some of his former DHR aides. He had frequently said he could not recall key events and, at times, had contradicted his own court testimony.
So many apparent misstatements by Yeldell had been cited by the prosecution that Judge Gesell, at one point, told defense and prosecution lawyers that Yeldell had been "certifying all around these quasiofficlial [banking and lending] institutions falsely . . ." whispered discussion with lawyers at the judge's bench on Thursday. It was made public when transcripts of the previous day's proceedings became available yesterday.
Since the defense started presenting its evidence to the jury on Oct. 13, it had sought to refute the proseuction's charges mainly by relying on the testimony of Antonelli, Yeldell and a small number of other witnesses, including several real estate appraisers.
Antonelli, a parking company owner and real estate developer, and Yeldell are charged in a grand jury indictment with conspiring corruptly to arrange a highly profitable, 20-year city government lease of a Northeast Washington building from a partnership controlled by Antonelli. The leased for the D.C. Department of Human Resources, the agency Yeldell headed at the time. In return for Yeldell's help in securing the $5.6 million lease, Antonelli is alleged to have secretly given Yeldell a $33,000 loan after helping him get previous short-term loans from a bank in which Antonelli is a stockholder and director.
In their court testimony, Yeldell and Antonelli have both described the loans as stemming from a decade-long friendship and have asserted that they never permitted their personal financial relationship to influence their government and business dealings.
Both men have acknowledged that Antonelli's $33,000 loan to Yeldell was kept secret in public records through use of a "straw," a fictitious lender.