The defense rested yesterday in the bribery trial of Alexandria prosecutor William L. Cowhig without Cowhig taking the witness stand andafter bitter prolonged debate over the credibility of a key defense witness.
With the jury out of the courtroom presiding Judge Percy ThorntonJr. disclosed to lawyers that the testimony of Cowhig acountant Frank B. Higdon "gives me some concern." The judge's misgivings over the Higdon's version of Cowhig's finances appeared to fade later after the judgeinsisted Higdon sign his name to a statement on Cowhig's finances.
Higdon had disclosed under questioning that the statement was based in large measure on a telephone interview Higdon said he had with the manager of a small resort hotel Cowhig own in the Bahamas. Cowhig is charged with accepting $32,000 in bribes from the operator of one of Northern Virginia's largest bingo games.
The jury is expected to hear closing areguments and begin deliberations today.
Three other defense witnesses, including a accountant who said he was speaking as a matter of "conscience," gave testimony that conflicted with statements made earlier in the trialby Dirgham Salahi, director of the Montessori School of Alexandria Inc., the chief witness against Cowhig.
Defense attorneys have said throughout the trial, that Salahi's credibility, or lack of it was a key element in their defense.
Special prosecutor Edward J. White ridiculed yesterday the methods and conclusions used by Higdon. Higdon had testified onMonday that revenues from a small Bahamian hotel owned by Cowhig enabled Cowhig to meet financial obligations that sometimes totaled nearly $2,000 more than his monthly spendable salary.
"How do you know these figures came from rents [of rooms atthe hotel] and not from the sale of coconuts?" White demanded.
Higdon, a certified public accountant, testified that he had relied in part forhis information on transoceanic telephone conversations with the hotel manager, Reevers Turnquest. He said he also depended on conversations with Cowhig, Cowhig's book-keeper, Mary Ann (Sam) Pastorek, and on information contained in a red looseleaf folder kept by Pastorek for Cowhig.
"Did you see the general journals . . .ledgers . . . bank deposits . . . srticles of incorporations . . . bylaws . . . (or) stock certificates?" of the Two Turtles hotel or its parent corporation, Two T's Ltd., White asked Higdon.
Higdon a former FBI agent who counts among his accounting clients the Alexandria Dukes baseball team, answered "No" to each question.
Outside the presence of the jury, Thornton said that Higdon "did not follow routine (accounting) procedures . . . he did not put his name on the document" that contained his analysis and conclusions. "This gives me some concern," Thornton said.
Defense attorney Leonard B. Sussholz then rose to sy that Higdon was prepare to sign the handwritten ledger sheet, and Higdon returnde to sign the paper as Thronton watched.
As Higdon started to walk away, Thornton called him back to the bench to add the initials, "C.P.A." to his name.
White contended that Higdon had "failed to do the job a professional accountant would have done" and charged that Higdon's analysis "was a serious misuse of the role of an expert witness." White also labeled $22,020 in cash hotel receipts, which Higdon testified had been brought from the Bahamas to Alexandria by Cowhig, "funny money".
White asked Thornton to strike higdon's testimony, and refuse to admit his handwritten ledger sheet into evidence. But after Higdon singed the document, Thornton denied White's requests.
Higdon was a major defense witness for Cowhig, whose only public statement since his indictment last Aug. 3 on a bribery charge was his plea at the start of the trial onDec. 5 that, "I am not guilty, your honor."
Higdon was called Monday to rebut the testimony of Virginia State Police investigator Coy Ivy that Cowhig's disposable income was substantially less than needed to sastisfy all of his financila obligations during the 16-month period of the indictment.
Higdon's version of the rental income at the hotel conflicts with information given to The Washignton Post by the hotel's managers, Reevers Turnquest and his wife Wendy. In April and August of this year the Turnquests told The Post that the hotel was not successful because its rooms were infrequently rented. The prosecution did not rebut higdon's testimony with that of a witness who had knowledge of the hotel's operations.
In front of the jury, Higdon said he placed "good reliance" on the cash flow statement he developed for Cowhig, saying such an analysis was "common practice" foraccountants dealing with small corporations. "I relied completely on the (hotel) manager, he had no reason to lie to me," Higdon testified.
According to Higdon's analysis of Two Turtlesreceipts, $9,561 had been deposited in a bank, $22,020 in cash had been given or mailed to Cowhig, and $23,036 had been kept by the hotel manager to reimburse him for out-of-pocket expenses.
Asked by White why the $22,020, which represented 70 percent of the hotel's income, had been deposited in a bank, Higdon cited the "time lag" of a month between the time money is depositedin the Bahamas and the time it can be used in the United States.
The only bank records introduced yesterday were check stubs from an Alexandria bank, written by Pastorek for Cowhig.