In an extraordinary bit of courtroom theater, a federal jury here today watched a 31-minute videotape in which an undercover FBI agent gave an envelope containing $50,000 in cash to Rep. Michael O. (Ozzie) Myers (D-Pa.) after Myers promised to introduce a bill to help an Arab "sheik" with his immigration problems.
The tape -- the first known televising of alleged bribery of a member of Congress -- showed a clear picture of a hotel room at Kennedy Airport in New York last Aug. 22, with Myers and co-defendant Angelo Errichetti seated on a sofa facing a camera, which was recording their every word and movement.
Myers and Errichetti are standing trial on conspiracy and bribery charges along with two Philadelphia lawyers, Howard Criden and Louis Johanson, in the first of the highly publicized Abscam trials.
On the tape the 37-year-old Myers claimed in a calm voice that he was head of the Philadelphia congressional delegation, talked at length about his political clout, and encouraged the "sheik" to invest in his district to give him "the perfect opportunity to raise hell before Congress."
The third-term congressman from South Phildelphia also seemed fully aware on the videotape that he would be paid for his efforts in helping the mythical Arab businessman enter and stay in the country. At one point Anthony Amoroso, the undercover FBI agent at the meeting, "You know, you're talkin' about a lot of money, okay?" Myers replied: "Let me just say this to you: you're goin' about it the right way.
"I'm gonna tell you somethin' real simple and short. Money talks in this business and bullshit walks. And it works the same way down in Washington."
Indeed, Myers on the tape portrays government service in Washington in a way that isn't described in civics books. For example, he know. It's a trading game down in Washington, and this is the way its done."
Of the six members of the Philadelphia area congressional delegation, Myers said, "We're team players, ya know, we work together. We have very important committee assignments. One of our members is on the Ways and Means Committee. I will be going on the Appropriations Committee. We have another member on the Budget Committee. So we have influence.
Ah, we have representation on the Judiciary Committee from our state, uh, which is very keen with immigration matters."
Myers told Amoroso and Melvin Weinberg, an undercover informat who is a key figure in the case, that he could introduce an immigration bill and "if nothin' more you could drag it out for years just f---ing with the bill . . . but you need friends in the right, in the right areas, and the way to do it is the way we do it with bloc, bloc strength."
At another point Myers said, "now, we got somethin' special that we want here, some special consideration of -- we take it right to the chairman of the, uh, Judiciary Committee on a matter like that. You know, when, when the, the whole voice speaks, it's not like me goin' trying' to make a deal as an individual. I include my whole group when I, when I move."
In referring to Rep. Peter Rodino (D-N.J.), the Judiciary Committee chairman, Myers said, "He's a very influential guy, loaded down with power and respect, and he deals with us continually, okay? He has to deal with us. Survival down there is knowin' how to make deals.
"It's a big pie down in Washington. Each member's sent there to bring a piece of that pie back home. And if you go down there and you come back without milkin' it after a few terms . . . you don't go f--- back."
There was an attempt to approach Rodino by another participant in the Abscam investigation. Justice Department officials said there is no evidence he took any part in the alleged bribery schemes.
At another point in the conversation Myers told the undercover agents, "I have all sorts of people comin' from the Middle East and the OPEC countries that want to make deals and want to buy a little security here. But, who the hell knows who you're dealin' with?"
He said he didn't want to deal with anyone who wasn't highly recommended. "I know all sorts of little operations such as we're talkin' about now. But the key is you got to deal with the right people. Because, in, in this day and age people are afraid to talk."
The congressman also suggested that he knew a lot of others in Congress "willin to do business . . . you know, work with you. Different states. Guys who keep committees. Guys right on the Judiciary Committee. You know, key people, key staff guys show ya how to stall things, lay things out. . . ."
At the end of the meeting, Amoroso pulled an envelope out of briefcase, put it in a larger envelope and handed it to Myers, saying simply: "Spend it well."
Defense attorneys have argued that ther was no intent to defraud the United States of Myers' faithful service as Congress member, as the indictment alleges. Instead, they contend that Weinberg, a convicted con man, pulled a "sting" on the FBI and encouraged the defendants to act out a role in a phony drama he produced.
Today's afternoon session was taken up with lengthy arguments -- out of the jury's hearing -- over whether defense attorneys could cross-examine Amoroso about Weinberg's activities. U.S. District Court Judge George C. Pratt ruled that the defense could delve into Weinberg's role, but warned that at the end of the trial he would tell the jury to disregard any attempt to divert attention away from the conduct of the defendants.
"The case comes down to whether the defendants were engaged in this for real or were acting out parts given to them by Mr. Weinberg," the judge said.
There were references in the morning session to Errichetti's efforts to interest other members of Congress in helping the "sheik." Errichetti named Reps. Elliott Levitas and Wyche Fowler, both Georgia Democrats, and Frank Guarini (D-N.J.) in one taped conversation. Justice officials said all three were cleared of any participation in the case.