A federal jury early this morning found Rep. Michael (Ozzie) Myers (D-Pa.) and three codefendants guilty of taking a $50,000 bribe a year ago from an FBI undercover agent posing as a representative of an Arab "sheik."
After about 10 hours of deliberation, the jury foreman told U.S. District Court Judge George C. Pratt that Myers, Camden, N.J., Mayor Angelo J. Errichetti, Philadelphia City Councilman Louis C. Johnanson and his law partner, Howard L. Criden, also were found guilty of conspiracy and interstate travel to aid racketeering.
The defendants face 15-year prison terms on the bribery conviction. Myers, a 27-year-old former dockworker from south Philadelphia, showed no emotion as the verdict was read.
"I've got a shot at an appellate court," Myers said in the hallway after the jury was dismissed. "I don't think they understood the charge."
Myers had taken the witness stand in his own defense, and contended that he was only "play-acting" when he boasted of his influence in Congress and promised to introduce a private immigration bill for the phony sheik at an Aug. 22, 1979, meeting that was secretly videotaped at a Kennedy International Airport motel room.
Thus, he claimed, he did not have the "criminal intent" required for conviction under the bribery laws.
The jury evidently agreed with government prosecutor Thomas F. Puccio's assertions that Myers' story was unworthy of belief. During his final arguments, Puccio emphasized the videotaped evidence, and said when Myers found out he had been "caught red-handed" he "became a man in need of a story." f
Especially devastating to Myers' defense was the Jan. 24, 1980, videotape at Philadelphia's Barclay Hotel in which the congressman complained that he had received only $15,000 from the first payoff in the $50,000 package.
After the verdict, Myers told reporters outside the Brooklyn courthouse, "I didn't sell my office because I didn't have any criminal intent."
Asked if he planned to step down or resign, he said, "I'm not gonna let a Mel Weinberg [a prosecution witness] chase me out of office."
Myers faces expected disciplinary proceedings by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, which could lead to his expulsion from Congress.
The convictions were the first in the government's Abscam undercover investigation.
Puccio said he felt the verdict "was amply supported by the evidence." He also said he thought the conviction amounted to a vindication of the techniques used in the Abscam investigation, which have been criticized by some civil liberties groups as well as defense lawyers.
Another result of the verdict is that the government now seems certain to move to compel Criden's testimony at the upcoming bribery and conspiracy trial of Reps. John M. Murphy (D-N.Y.) and Frank Thompson (D-N.J.), two powerful House committee chairmen who have also been indicted in Abscam cases.
Pratt had planned to keep the jury deliberating until 11 p.m. Friday, but the jurors asked to continue for another hour, and brought their verdict in at 12:12 a.m. today.
The foreman, Nancy Biedry, a physicial therapist from Glen Cove, N.Y., said "guilty" 12 times as the judge's clerk asked her the verdict on each of the three counts for each of the four defendants.
The defense strategy throughout the three-week trial had been to divert attention from the incriminating videotapes and try to focus the jury's attention on the activities of Melvin Weinberg.
They claimed that Weinberg, the convicted felon who worked undercover for the FBI in Abscam, had told the defendants they only had to put on a stage play to get money from the "sheik."
But Pratt told the jurors in his instructions Friday morning that "Mel Weinberg is not on trial here. The government is not on trial here."
The judge did tell the jurors that they could find Myers guilty of receiving a "criminal gratuity" -- which carries only a two-year penalty -- if they found that he did not have the specific "criminal intent" to violate the bribery laws. Defense attorneys had hoped that Myers' testimony that he was "only acting" would raise the "reasonable doubt" that he had the required intent.
In the end, it seemed clear that the jury did not accept the congressman's explanation.
The government had made no secret of its desire to try Myers first because prosecutors thought it was the strongest of the Abscam cases. Puccio made an especially effective summation and rebuttal to the jury Thursday.
According to the evidence Puccio placed before the jury, the idea that the "sheik" might need immigration help was first mentioned to Errichetti by FBI undercover agent Anthony Amoroso Jr. on a yacht in Florida. The testimony then showed that Errichetti mentioned the problem to Criden and Johanson, and Myers testifed that Johanson told him in August 1979 that the "sheik" would pay $100,000 just to be introduced to important people.
"I said it sounded like a fairy tale," Myers said. But he went along with the idea, he added, because he "saw it as a way to pick up some easy money . . ."
At the payoff meeting on Aug. 22, the videotape showed Myers accepting an envelope containing $50,000 in $100 bils. During that meeting, he told Amoroso that he was taking care of the "sheik's" problems "the right way. I'm gonna tell you something, real simple and short. Money talks in this business and bullshit walks. And it works the same way down in Washington."