In an article yesterday on the Abscam verdict, captions on photographs of the two defendants, Howard L. Criden and Louis C. Johanson, were inadvertently reversed in some editions.
In the end, the young congressmen from the docks of south Philadelphia just couldn't explain away the videotapes.
So just after midnight yesterday, a jury in a federal courthouse in Brooklyn convicted Rep. Michael (Ozzie) Meyers (D-Pa.) and three codefendants of bribery, conspiracy and interstate travel to aid racketeering in the first of the FBI's celebrated and controversial Abscam trials.
Myers, a 37-year-old former longshoreman with a ninth grade education, admitted taking $50,000 in cash from an undercover FBI agent posing as a representative of an Arab "sheik" in a Kennedy International Airport motel room a year ago.
But the congressman said he was only acting when he boasted of his influence in front of the hidden FBI cameras. He said he never had any intention of introducing a private immigration bill for the sheik, as he promised, and thus did not have the specific criminal intent required to violate the bribery law.
Thomas P. Puccio, the government prosecutor in the case, ridiculed Myer's claim in his closing arguments to the jury Thursday. He said the congressman's real "command performance" was when he lied on the witness stand, not when he boasted to the "sheik's" man on the tapes.
Myers "became a man in need of a story" when he learned he had been "caught red-handed" by the cameras, Puccio said.
The jurors agreed. "It was the videotapes," Sam Baz, a Brooklyn machinist told United Press International. "The cameras that took all the pictures."
"Everything was in front of us," said Doris Daddario, 57, a housewife from Bayside Queens. She said the jurors felt Myers was "lying all the way through" when he testified.
Nancy Biedry, of Glen Cove, Long Island, the foreman of the jury and its youngest member at 23, agreed that the videotapes and the testimony of Myers were the key factors in reaching the verdict.
Myers' codefendants, Camden, N.J., Mayor Angelo J. Errichetti, Philadelphia City Councilman Louis C. Johanson, and his law partner Howard L. Criden, all in their early 50s, shared the payoff money, according to the trial evidence.
Juror Daddario told UPI yesterday that the only hesitancy in the verdict was on Johanson's guilt, which was discussed for three of the 10 hours of deliberation. He was not featured on any tapes. But he told an FBI agent he had many "sleepless nights" since taking the money.
The defendants face up to 15 years in prison from the bribery conviction.
The Myers' case was the first of five Abscam bribery trials involving members of Congress. Rep. John Jenrette (D-S.C.) is scheduled to begin trial in Washington this week. Rep. Raymond F. Lederer (D-Pa.) is due to start his case in Brooklyn on Sept. 15, with the joint trial of Reps. John M. Murphy (D-N.Y.) and Frank Thompson Jr. (D-N.J.) to follow near the end of September.
Rep. Richard Kelly (R-Fla.) is now set to go on trial in Washington in October. Like Myers, all are accused of taking cash from undercover agents in return for promises to help the phony sheik.
Puccio's organized crime strike force in Brooklyn supervised the investigation, which began two years ago as a "sting" operation to recover stolen art works and securities. The FBI set up a phony company, Abdul Enterprises Ltd. -- thus the code name Abscam -- on Long Island and used a convicted felon, Melvin Weinberg, to put out the word that he represented an Arab with millions to invest.
The scheme quickly began attracting middlemen like Errichetti and Criden, who say they knew politicians who could help the "sheik" with his business ventures. By early 1979 the focus of the investigation had shifted to state and federal elected officials and soon became the most sweeping public corruption inquiry in FBI history.
Justice Department officials have been on the defensive about the Abscam techniques ever since word of the oeration leaked to several news organizations in early Febraury. Defense attorneys and some civil liberties groups have criticized the government's conduct for creating fictitious crimes and testing the integrity of public officials without real evidence they are corrupt.
However, in the first appeals court ruling on the Abscam cases so far, Judge Jon Newman, of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, noted that congressmen or other officials approached by the undercover agents could simply say "no" to bribe offers.
The government was anxious to try Myers' case first because of the devastating impact of a Jan. 24 videotape of the congressman in the Barclay Hotel in Philadelphia. In that meeting with two undercover FBI agents, he complained that he had ended up with only $15,000 of the original payoff money. He then agreed to take $35,000 more for his promised help on the immigration bill, and an additional $50,000 in return for his influence in aiding the "sheik" with other congressmen, the Philadelphia City Council and even the Mafia.
Myers said the agents got him drunk at the meeting and insisted, in his sworn testimony, that he was merely boasting about his connections in hopes of getting some more "easy money" from the Arab. He never introduced the immigration bill.
U.S. District Court Judge George C. Pratt, who also will hear the Lederer and Murphy-Thompson trials, told the jurors in the Myers' case they could find the congressman guilty of a lesser charge -- receiving a criminal gratuity -- if they believed his story that he did not have specific criminal intent to take money in return for an official act.
Myers and his codefendants said they will appeal the convictions. The congressman barely won renomination for a third term in the March Democratic primary in Pennsylvania. He now faces an expected disciplinary hearing by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, which could lead to his expulsion.
Justice officials believe that undercover techniques like those used in Abscam are necessary for the FBI to monitor possible bribery by state and federal elected officials. Philip B. Heymann, head of the department's criminal division, said as much in testimony before Congress last spring.
Undercover bribery investigations are needed because payoffs usually occur without witnesses and the chances of having one of the parties testify against the other is slight. Even in that rare instance it would be one person's word against the other's, and the bribe-giver is often an unsavory individual whose testimony can be impeached.
Videotapes are a powerful antidote to such problems.
Criticism of the Abscam techniques will hardly be silenced by Myers' conviction. Indeed, there are signs that Weinberg and other undercover operatives may have gone too far in some efforts to get members of Congress to take money before the cameras.
But the image of powerful representatives of the people discussing a trade of their influence for cash on courtroom television monitors is likely to have as riveting an impact on juries in future Abscam trials as it did in the Myers case.