Rep. Michael (Ozzie) Meyers (D-Pa.) maintained today that he took cash from representatives of a phony Arab "sheik" last year because he "saw it as a way to pick up some easy money for doing absolutely nothing," and that he did not regard it as a bribe.
Myers told the jury in his bribery and conspiracy trial that he lied about his importance in Congress and in Philadelphia politics in an effort to impress the sheik's representatives -- actually, undercover FBI operatives -- and that he never had any intention of introducing a private immigration bill on behalf of the sheik. He never did introduce such a bill.
In the first of the Abscam cases to go to trial, Myers and three co-defendents are charged with taking $50,000 in return for Myers' promise to introduce the bill.
Today, Myers' attorney, Plato Cacheris, led his client through a lengthy stop-action review of the videotapes of the alleged Aug. 22, 1979, payoff and a meeting last Jan. 24 where Myers agreed to take $85,000 for his influence in Congress, the Philadelphia City Council and the Mafia.
On the stand today, the 37-year-old former longshoreman said he had little of the influence of which he had boasted. He said he did not know any Mafia figures, but just "grabbed for names" from old newspaper articles he remembered. He also said he never intended to act on the sheik's behalf, and had never asked anyone in Congress or on the Council to do so.
In explaining his actions at the first meeting at a Kennedy airport Hotel, Myers said "I was told to come on strong, and talk tough, because I would never have to do anything." He said Camden, N.J., Mayor Angelo J. Errichetti, one of the codefendants,told him the sheik was planning to go to South America if forced to leave his own country.
Myers testified that at the Jan. 24 meeting, at Philadelphia's Barclay Hotel, the undercover FBI agents got him drunk on two large glasses of bourbon. He estimated that he drank about 16 ounces of the whiskey during the 90-minute meeting.
During, the replay of the tapes today, Cacheris stopped them at several points to question his client. At one point during the replay of the tape of the Jan. 24 meeting, the attorney asked Myers how he had been feeling at that moment.
Meyers replied that he was getting progressively drunk. "My words are getting slurry. I'm slouching on the couch. . . I'm getting drunk." he said of the scene about 15 minutes after he had entered the Philadelphia hotel room.
About 45 minutes later on the tape, as it neared 11 p.m., Myers seems to be mumbling and becoming increasingly profane.
At one point when Cacheris stopped the tape, Myers testified, "I'm really getting under the weather there. What can I say about it? It's embarrassing even to watch."
At another point, Cacheris rewound the tape to give the jury an instant reply of the congressman taking a drink and dribbling bourbon down his chin.
Meyers, dressed conservatively in a pin-striped navy suit, blue shirt and dark red tie, sat erect and tight-lipped as his attorney questioned him. After finishing the review of the tapes, he said that he did not think it was proper to have taken his $15,000 share of the $50,000 payment."But I didn't do anything wrong for it, break any laws. I never intended to," he said. "But when I view the tape I see it was not right."
Meyers told the jury that he left school in the 10th grade and worked as a telegram delivery boy and an assembly line worker at a can company before working on the waterfront and getting into politics.
He seemed to have some trouble explaining away some of his more incriminating statements, especially those on the second tape -- the meeting at which he claims he was drunk.
For example, in both tapes he uses the phrase "money talks and bullshit walks" when discussing the alleged payoff. He told his attorney that he first heard the term on the waterfront and that it meant that "everything you had to do took money." When chief prosecutor Thomas P. Puccio began his cross-examination late this afternoon, he asked about the quoteand the Myers' statement that followed it -- "and it works the same way down in Washington."
Meyers replied, "I have no knowledge of it working that way down in Washington."
He acknowledged Puccio's characterization that he had taken money from the sheik under false pretenses but said, "I didn't think this way dishonest."
"I didn't do anything that violated my office," Myers said emphatically when Puccio suggested that he was prepared to do anything to help the sheik in return for the cash.
Late on the tape of the Jan. 22 meeting, Myers made the most incriminating statements, saying he wanted $35,000 that he was "entitled to" from the first meeting and an additional $50,000 for promises to wield influence in the future.
Asked what he meant by the taped reference in which he suggested that his associates had skimmed $35,000 of the original $50,000 payment, Myers said, "That's the quickest 50 I've ever seen disappear."
Cacheris passed over some other incriminating statements while rerunning the tapes, including one in which Myers said he was willing to spread money around" Phildelphia.
Myers testified that Philadelphia city councilman Louis C. Johanson introduced him to the $100,000 transaction that we were gonna relieve the sheik of."
He said Johanson, a codefendant, told him that he knew an Arab who would pay $100,000 to him and law partner Howard L. Criden, the fourth defendent in the case, if he could introduce the Arab to important people. "I said it sounded like a fairy tale." Myers testified. "But Lou said, 'A hundred thousand to them is peanuts.'"
He said the money was to be split among himself, Errichetti, Johanson, Criden and Melvin Weinberg, an FBI informant.