A federal judge and jury wearing yellow foam rubber earphones today heard tape recordings of Camden, N.J., Mayor Angelo Errichetti boasting last August that Rep. Michael O. (Ozzie) Myers (D-Pa.) was willing to help an Arab "sheik" with his immigration problems.
Errichetti also boasted that he was working on Sen. Herman Talmadge (D-Ga.), two congressmen from Georgia, two more from Florida and Rep. Raymond F. Lederer (D-Pa.) to take part in the scheme.
There is no evidence that Talmadge had any part in what became known as the FBI's undercover Abscam operation. Lederer, like Myers, has been indicted on bribery charges as a result of the investigation.
The recordings were the first of what is expected to be a barrage of both audio and video tapes introduced in the first trial growing out of the highly publicized Abscam investigation.
Myers, Errichetti and two Philadelphia lawyers, Howard L. Criden and Louis Johanson, has been charged with bribery and conspiracy for allegedly taking $50,000 from undercover FBI agents in return for Myer's help for a fictitious Middle Eastern businessman.
The first videotapes of the alleged payoff are expected to be played in court Wednesday. In bragging of his arrangements with Myers, Errichetti said, "He'd do anything . . . he's goona be your f -- man . . . anything you want."
On that same tape, Melvin Weinberg, convicted con man who is a key participant in the undercover scheme as an FBI informant, said the congressman would have to tell the phony Arab "when the time comes . . . I will sponsor anything you want."
"He'll say that," Errichetti promised. "Let me tell you something. This guy is good, Meyers is good. . . ."
Most of today's proceedings were taken up with legal arguments between prosecutor Thomas P. Puccio and the defense attorneys and their opening statements.
In his statement, Puccio outlined the government's case against Myers and his codefendents and stressed that much of the evidence would be videotapes.
"Most importantly, through the wonder of the electronic age, televi- sion, you will see pictures and sound which will capture for you not only the words and actions but the atmosphere and the nuances of what took place," he told the jury.
He urged the jurors to remember the tapes because they, unlike the changeable testimony of witnesses, will "remain the same as when it was recorded in August 1979."
While Puccio tried to focus the trial on the taped evidence, defense attorneys tried, in their opening statement, to put the jurors' attention on the activities of Weinberg.
Richard Ben-Veniste, Criden's attorney, charged that "this case is the story of a man named Mel Weinberg." He said Weinberg had been caught defrauding people in 1977 and had been able to get the FBI to keep him out of jail and then to set him up in the luxurious scheme to run the same kind of scam for them.
He tried to paint Weinberg as the "producer" of a script suitable for a Hollywood movie. He and other defense attorneys quoted excerpts from tapes that will be introduced to bolster their claim that Weinberg urged the defendants to talk big in their meetings with the undercover agents and the "sheik." Weinberg also told the defendants, they asserted, that they "would never have to do a single thing" to get the money that was being discussed.
"Keep one thing in mind," Ben-Veniste said, "the only thing that was ever done was to take the fat Arab's money.They never used their offices, they never did one thing."
He also said that Weinberg intended to write a book about his undercover adventures and leaked information about Abscam to the press to hype potential sales.
Plato Cacheris, Myers' attorney, told the jurors that his client had no intention of breaking the law. "The mere acceptance of money -- which we do not dispute -- isn't political corruption in the context of this case. He (Myers) never performed an act for these people and never intended to."
Myers had been told by Errichetti to "talk tough," and in the Aug. 22 meeting, where the money allegedly changed hands, "you will see Mr. Myers do as he was instructed to do," Chacheris said. "He put on a performance that would put Dustin Hoffman to shame."
In a videotaped meeting in Philadelphia in January of this year, Cacheris said, the tapes will show the FBI, agents "begin to ply poor Ozzie with drinks so they could get him to say anything they wanted him to say."
Cacheris finished his statements by telling the jury: "Congressman Myers is charged with selling his office. That is a very serious charge.That he did not do."
John Duffy, Johanson's attorney, said the defendants' only crime was one of stupidity in being conned by yweinberg and the FBI.
Raymond A. Brown, Errichetti's attorney, quoted liberally from tapes in which Weinberg told the defendants that the whole affair was a "stage play."
"Just blow your horn as hard as you can. It's all bull . . . .," Brown said Weinberg told Errichetti at one point. "You gotta sell it like mad . . . you're on stage for 20 minutes . . . ."
The first audio tapes were introduced to back up the testimony of Anthony Amoroso, an undercover FBI agent who worked with Weinberg. He described meetings with Criden, Johanson and Errichetti in July 1979 on a 65-foot yacht at Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
At one meeting that was not recorded, Amoroso said, he suggested that the sheik might face immigration problems similar to those of Anastasio Somoza, the deposed Nicaraguan strongman. He said Errichetti promised to line up the proper politicians to handle the problem. Amoroso testified that he then suggested that money would not be a problem.
He then introduced the Aug. 5, 1979, tape of Errichetti at an airline lounge at Kennedy Airport, which referred to the alleged availability of Myers and other members of Congress.
Throughout the pretrial hearings, defense lawyers have attacked the government's conduct in the case as overreaching by creating the crimes with which the defendants are charged.