Rep. Michael (Ozzie) Myers (D-Pa.) testified today that it took him only two weeks to spend the $15,000 he accepted from representatives of a phony Arab "sheik" last August. He said he used the money to pay tuition at his children's private schools, buy apliances at Sears and finance construction at his hunting club in upstate Pennsylvania.
Myers repeated his contention that he had done nothing illegal or improper in taking the money. "I'm ashamed of myself," he said. "I'm not proud of my actions, particularly with my drinking . . . I'm embarrassed that I took the money. When I see myself on the box [videotape monitor], I'm embarrassed at my whole attitude."
Goverment prosecutor Thomas P. Puccio failed to shake Myers' testimony today in his second day of cross-examination. Puccio seemed to miss several changes to grill the 37-year-old congressman about inconsistencies in his explanation of why he told the sheik's representatives -- actually, undercover FBI operatives -- he would introduce a private immigration bill to help the rich Arab. He did not introduce the bill.
Myers and three codefendents are charged with bribery and conspiracy in the first of the FBI's Abscam cases to go to trial. They allegedly split $50,000 in return for Myers' promise of help on the immigration matter.
Myers has acknowledged taking $15,000 of the alleged payoff package. But he has insisted that he never intended to introduce any immigration bill. The federal bribery law requires the government to prove that the defendants intended to do something in return for the money.
While Myers testified, a group of people who said they were supporters from his south Philadelphia district picketed the federal courthouse in Brooklyn. They carried signs that read: "FBI -- Solve Crime. Don't Create It," "FBI Should Be on Trial" and "Look Out for the FBI, You May Be Next."
During the cross-examination today, Puccio led myers through the description of his handling of the cash from the alleged Aug. 22, 1979, payoff. Myers said that when he saw the stacks of $100 bills on the desk of Philadelphia lawyer Howard L. Criden, a codefendant, after the meeting, he thought, "This was the easiest money I ever obtained in my life."
He said he took the $15,000 to his New Jersey beach house and put it in the top drawer of his bedroom dresser. He then spent it in small amounts, he said. He put about half into his bank account and wrote checks to cover purchases, he testified, and the rest he spent in cash.
"It's not hard to go through money," he said, adding that he bought his three children "all kinds of stuff."
Myers said he was "always in need of money . . . It was tuition time. I was going to have to make a loan on my salary" -- at the time, $57,500 -- if he had not picked up the money from the fictitious sheik.
He also paid off a $1,000 loan to his father in cash and lent his sister $500, he said.
Myers told Puccio that he had received an extension for filing his 1979 income tax. But he was not asked whether he got the extension after the Abscam investigation was publicly disclosed in February.
Myers also testified that his tax attorney told him that Abdul Enterprises, the FBI's front for the phony sheik's operation, might have to pay a gift tax on the money it gave him.
Puccio, who was cautioned once by the judge about his sarcasm in asking questions, finished his cross-examination without pressing Myers about other statements he made in the videotaped meetings of Aug. 22 and Jan. 24. For instance, he did not ask Myers what he meant when he said at the Jan. 24 meeting that he was willing to "spread money around."
Myers' defense rested after his cross-examination.
The afternoon session was taken up by witnesses called by the attorney for Camden, N.J., Mayor Angelo Errichetti in an attempt to undermine the testimony of Melvin Weinberg, a convicted felon who played a key role in the Abscam investigation.
Weinberg denied in testimony last week that he had received gifts from Errichetti or that he had tampered with tape recordings of his telephone conversations with the mayor.
The mayor's nephew, Joseph DiLorenzo, testified that he delivered several gifts, including a Betamax videotape system and television sets, to Weinberg. DiLorenzo's girl friend testified that she was present last year when the Betamax was handed over to Weinberg.
Michael Duffy, a financial investigator hired by the defense, testified that his review of phone records in the case showed that 57 calls, totaling three hours and 37 minutes, between Weinberg's and Errichetti's phones were not tape recorded.Weinberg had testified that he had instructions to record every call but that sometimes, for a variety of reasons, he was unable to.
On cross-examination,Puccio got Duffy to say that only six of the unrecorded calls -- each two to three minutes long -- occurred in the three weeks preceding the alleged August payoff. Myers' involvement in the case goes back to late July 1979.