Alexandria bingo figure Dirgham Salahi told his lawyer last spring he had "a problem" with Alexandria prosecutor William L. Cowhig and had been making weekly $500 cash payments to Cowhig "for some time," the lawyer testified yesterday.
Testimony and documents presented yesterday in Cowhig's trial in Alexandria Circuit Court also revealed that $2,500 in cash was deposited in the bank account of Shirley Cowhig, the defendant's wife, at the same time Cowhig had claimed he had no source of income outside his $42,200 salary as Alexandria commonwealth's attorney.
During this period, in June 1977, Cowhig also purchased a four-passenger airplane with two cashier's checks, one for $12,000 and another for $2,500 plus a personal check for $1,000, according to the plane's former owner, Charles Benn.
Testimony by the lawyer, Bernard M. Fagelson of Alexandria and others came in the third day of the trial of Cowhig, accused of asking for and receiving $32,000 in bribes from Salahi, whose Montessori School of Alexandria was a major sponsor of bingo games in the city.
Salahi, Cowhig's chief accuser, testified on Wednesday he had stopped making the payments to Cowhig after consulting a lawyer last spring -- about the time Alexandria and state police investigations of local bingo games were intensifying.
"Salahi came to me in considerable turmoil" last April, Fagelson said, after telling the court that Salahi had released him from the customary attorney-client relationship that customarily bars such disclosures.
"Salahi said he had a problem with Cowhig and had a statement to make to me that he had been trying to make for some time... His statement was that he had been paying Mr. Cowhig a sum of money, $500 a week, for some time."
Fagelson, who said he represented Salahi and the Montessori school at the time, did not testify about what he believed Salahi's "problem" to have been or what reason Salahi gave for making the payments.
Salahi testified on Wednesday that he started the series of weekly payments, always in cash and "wrapped in a rubber band," to Cowhig in part to buy "peace" from a cycle of "harassment" by the prosecutor.
Defense attorney Louis Koutoulakos did not dispute Fagelson's testimony, but asked rhetorically, as he stood near the jury, "Would you believe him [Salahi]?" since Salahi admitted in earlier testimony he once lied to the police.
Circuit Court Judge Percy Thornton Jr. did not allow Fagelson to answer, and told the jury to ignore the question.
According to Benn, the plane was sold in October 1977 for the same price Cowhig had paid for it. Benn said he then sent Cowhig a check for $15,500, the sale price.
Benn also testified that last March and April Cowhig attempted to purchase another airplane from Benn for $15,500, but that that deal was never consummated, and the money was returned.
Defense attorneys have indicated that Cowhig's finances can be explained through legitimate means, such as bank loans and unexpected income such as tax returns and old legal fees.
Another prosecution witness, Henry F. Boggess Jr., testified that he had not signed a bingo application for the Ascension Aviation Club, a group being formed by Cowhig, although the document bore his name. No other explanation was given for the signature.
Boggess, 19, also said that early last summer Cowhig asked him to sign two blank checks. Cowhig told him that "if I sign this it would keep us all out of trouble," Boggess testified.
On Wednesday Salahi testified that as part of his attempt to buy "peace," he had suggested Cowhig find a group interested in sponsoring bingo games. Cowhig proposed forming the Ascension Aviation Club, in whose name bingo games were held, although papers indicating the group's nonprofit status were never given to him, Salahi testified.
Witness Carolyn Luna, a Montessori teacher and secretary, read from her notes of a conversation she had listened in on between Cowhig and Salahi at 2:20 p.m. on Aug. 2, 1978, the day, before Cowhig was indicted. "Don't worry, everything will be over tomorrow, I'll get in touch with you when it's over," Luna quoted Cowhig as saying.
Koutoulakos challenged the document, since Luna said she had consulted with Salahi before signing it.
The prosecution yesterday also introduced into evidence copies of some of Cowhig's bank statements. Several of them are entitled "Ascension Aviation Inc. c/o William L. Cowhig" and show balances of less than $50 for each of three months.
A witness also said yesterday that Cowhig and his mother, Mary B. Colasanto, owed $1,820 each month in mortgage payments on property they owned in the Bahamas. Cowhig earlier this year said he only had to pay the interest on the amounts, rather than the principal.