Rep. Michael O. Myers (D-Pa.) was indicted on bribery and racketeering charges by a federal grand jury in Brooklyn yesterday for allegedly agreeing to trade his influence in Congress for $50,000.
Myers is the first member of Congress to be charged in the Abscam investigation, in which undercover FBI agents posed as representatives of Arab businessmen to videotape alleged bribery transactions with public officials.
Angelo Errichetti, the mayor of Camden, N.J., and two men indicted in a separate Abscam case last week in Philadelphia, city councilman Louis C. Johanson and attorney Howard L. Criden, also were named as defendants in the three-count indictment.
According to the indictment, Myers received $50,000 in cash from an undercover FBI agent and an informant, Melvin Weinberg, last Aug. 22 at the Travelodge International Hotel in New York. The indictment states that Myers had promised to introduce private immigration bills to enable the foreign businessmen to remain in the United States and to intervene on their behalf at the State Department, if necessary.
Myers split the money with the other three defendants and an unnamed party, the indictment alleged, kept $15,000 for himself, and then complained five months later that he did not receive the full $50,000 he had been promised.
Myers' attorney, Plato Cacheris, declined comment yesterday, saying he had not read the indictment. He said, "I was promised by Mr. [Thomas] Puccio [the federal prosecutor in Brooklyn] that he would call me before any indictment, and I'm rather surprised that he didn't keep his word."
Cacheris said he was concerned by "a struggle within the Justice Department over the case." He said he had received letters from two prosecutors, Puccio and Peter Vaira, the U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, telling him Myers was a target of a grand jury investigation in their district.
"This looks like a compromise indictment," he said. "They've got some of the same people from last week and threw in Errichetti and the congressman."
Michael Corbett, Myers' press secretary, said the congressman had no comment on the charges.
Myers, a 37-year-old former longshoreman from south Philadelphia who was handpicked by then-Mayor Frank Rizzo to run for the House in 1976, barely won his April 22 primary bid for renomination.
Though yesterday's indictment did not mention the techniques used in the Abscam investigation, news stories last Feb. 3 detailed the use of undercover agents and hidden videotape cameras to record the alleged cash transactions with Myers and several other members of Congress.
Sources said they expect decisions by grand juries in Brooklyn and Washington on some of the other cases in the next few weeks. In all, seven members of the House of Representatives and one U.S. senator are under investigation.
According to yesterday's indictment, Errichetti told informant Weinberg last July 29 that Myers was prepared to meet with the representatives of the supposed Arab businessmen. Criden, Johanson and then Myers were then brought into the alleged scheme, the grand jury charged.
The FBI used Weinberg to set up an undercover operation aimed at recovering stolen securities and jewelry on Long Island. But the focus of the investigation began turning to public officials when first Errichetti and then Criden began claiming that they could buy local, state and even federal officeholders, according to sources.
Yesterday's indictment charges specifically that all four defendants conspired to commit bribery and to defraud the federal government by demanding and agreeing to take cash in return for Myer's influence.
In the second count, Myers is charged with bribery and the other three men with aiding and abetting the bribery. The third count alleges that all four aided a racketeering enterprise through interstate travel to carry out the bribery scheme.
For Criden and Johanson, partners in a Philadelphia law firm, the indictments were the second arising from the Abscam investigation within a week.
They, along with two other members of the Philadelphia city council, will be arraigned Friday on extortion and racketeering charges in Philadelphia.
Criden's attorney, Richard Ben-Veniste, said yesterday that he expects his client may be indicted yet again, because he has refused to take a guilty plea and become a government witness against other members of Congress.
Sources have said that Criden is a key figure in transactions allegedly involving Reps. John M. Murphy (D-N.Y.) and Frank Thompson (D-N.J.)
Defense attorneys are expected to attack the whole range of Abscam indictments by complaining that pre-indictments leaks prejudiced the grand juries. They also are believed to be preparing a major campaign to undermine the credibility of informant Weinberg, who has been convicted of a federal fraud charge in another case.
Myers has been in trouble before. He pleaded no contest a few years ago to charges he beat up a waitress at an Arlington nightclub.