Jurors in federal court here today heard a series of government tape recordings that appeared to link a $150,000 payoff to a federal judge's decision to return $845,000 to two convicted racketeers.
Prosecutors presented evidence today that, on the same day U.S. District Judge Alcee L. Hastings ordered his law clerk to complete a long-delayed order returning the $845,000, he called Washington lawyer William A. Borders Jr. and said: "I've drafted all those letters for him."
Borders is on trial here on charges that he and Hastings conspired to take a $150,000 payoff from the convicted men, Frank and Thomas Romano, in exchange for Hastings' release of the seized property and reduction of their prison terms. Hastings is expected be tried separately in Miami.
According to the prosecution evidence, which includes secret tape recordings, Borders met with an FBI undercover agent posing as Frank Romano on Sept. 12. "I understand you had a problem," he told "Romano" on the tape. "I think we can help you."
The agent testified that Borders then wrote "$150,000" on an envelope after asking him if he knew "the amount." Borders accepted $25,000 from the same agent at another meeting on Sept. 19, and according to the government's evidence, expected to be paid the rest once Hastings signed the forfeiture order.
A former law clerk to Hastings, Jeffrey Miller, testified today that on Oct. 5, Hastings came into his office and asked about the status of the Romano forfeiture order, which had been pending before Hastings for several months. In what Miller described as an "unusual" demand, Hastings told him "I want the order today."
That afternoon, an FBI court-ordered wiretap picked up a telephone call from Hastings to Borders at his Washington law office just after 5 p.m.
"Yes, my brother," Borders said, according to the tape, when he picked up the telephone.
"Hey, my man," Hastings said, "I've drafted all those letters for him."
"Um hum," Borders replied.
"And everything's okay. The only thing I was concerned with was, did you hear if--hear from him after we talked?" Hastings asked on the tape.
Borders continued "See, I had, I talked to him and he, he wrote some things down for me."
"I understand," Hastings replied.
"And then I was supposed to go back and get some more things," Borders said.
Hastings on the tape replies "All right, I understand. Well then, there's no great big problem at all. I'll see to it that I communicate with him. I'll send the stuff off to Columbia in the morning."
Two days later, on Oct. 7, according to other tape evidence played for the jury today, Borders received a telephone call from the undercover agent, posing as Frank Romano.
"Ah, nothing's happened yet," the agent said on the tape.
"Ah, yes it has," Borders replies.
"It hasn't arrived at the . . . " the agent said.
"Well, it should. It went out yesterday morning," Borders replied. Earlier today, law clerk Miller testified that Hastings signed the forfeiture order on Oct. 6 and that it was mailed that day.
Later in the evening of Oct. 7, Borders called the man he believed was Romano.
"How you doing, buddy," Borders asked.
"Much better," the agent replied, adding "I got a call, everything is fine." According to the tape, the two men then made arrangements to meet again, this time, at Borders' request, in the Washington area.
On Oct. 9, Borders was arrested in the Arlington Marriott Twin Bridges motel parking lot with the agent in the car. Between the two men was the agent's red suit bag, which contained $125,000 packaged in $100 bills.
That night Borders was to be honored at a black-tie gala for his service in 1980 as president of a national association of black lawyers. Borders, who spent the night in jail, was unable to attend.
Meanwhile, prosecution evidence yesterday showed that Hastings, one of the sponsors of the event for Borders, had arrived in Washington that same day.
In testimony yesterday, Hastings' longtime friend and law school roommate, Hemphill P. Pride II of Columbia, S.C., who had also come to Washington for the night's events, described how Hastings learned that Borders had been arrested.
Pride, who like Hastings was staying at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel, said attorney John A. Shorter Jr. called him at the hotel and said Borders had been arrested. Shorter is defending Borders at the trial.
Pride said Shorter described the charges and said the FBI wanted to talk to Hastings. Pride said Shorter suggested that Washington defense lawyer R. Kenneth Mundy would be available to accompany the judge if he went to the FBI.
"He Hastings was shocked and astonished and asked me 'What should I do?' " Pride testified today.
"I told him I thought it would be in his best interest to go back to Florida" to see his own lawyer, Pride told the jury.
Pride said he helped Hastings pack up his belongings, walked him to the hotel lobby, shook hands and parted.