A federal jury here yesterday watched an hour-long videotape in which Rep. John J. Jenrette Jr. (D-S.C.) discuss whether he would be able to come through with a private immigration bill for a fictitious Arab sheik in exchange for $100,000.
"I've got larceny in my blood," Jenrette told undercover FBI agent Anthony Amorosco, who was posing as a representative of the phony sheik as part of the bureau's Abscam investigation.
Earlier on the tape, made Dec. 4 in the library of a Georgetown home, Jenrette said: "If I take it [the money], I'm going to have a lawyer, my law partner, I guess, take it for me. That's why I want a few hours, to cover my ass so it looks like he's taking his legal fee and I'm doing the work."
"There's nothing I'd rather do than walk out with it," Jenrette told Amoroso, who was posing as a man named Tony DeVito.
Jenrette, 44, is accused of bribery and conspiracy in the case; codefendant John Stowe, a Richmond, Va., businessman, is charged with conspiracy and aiding and abetting the bribery.
Prosecutors contend that the two men split $50,000 and sought more in return for Jenrette's promise to introduce the immigration legislation.
The Jenrette trial is the second Abscam case to come before a jury. Six members of Congress have been indicted, and one -- Michael (Ozzie) Myers (D-Pa.) -- has been convicted after the 14-month investigation.
On the tape, Jenrette told Amoroso: "I don't know that I've taken a bribe or that you've offered me a bribe." But the congressman repeatedly said he wanted more time to think about it.
Later, the jury heard Amoroso tell Jenrette: "Let me say this, you put your cards on the table with me . . . I'll give you the money. You get ahold of me tomorrow and let me know if you can be effective or not."
But Jenrette again said he needed more time.
The videotape, the first of several expected to be shown as the government presents its case in U.S. District Court here, opened with Amoroso standing in a library at the home and announcing that he was expecting to meet with Jenrette, Stowe and FBI informant Melvin Weinberg, a convicted con man.
Amoroso then said that he was placing five packets, containing $50,000, in a desk drawer.
The jury and Judge John Garrett Penn watched as Jenrette and Stowe entered the library and were seated in view of the hidden camera. All that could be seen of Amoroso were his hands and his cigar. Occasionally, Weinberg's gravelly voice could be heard. He was not visible, however.
Jenrette spent most of the meeting slouched on a small couch, while Stowe was seated in an armchair to his right.
At one point, Jenrette requested and was given an alcoholic drink. Jenrette's lawyer, Kenneth Michael Robinson, has contended that Jenrette was drunk during the meeting.
Earlier yesterday, Amoroso testified that on Dec. 3, the day before the meeting at the Georgetown house, he and Weinberg met with Stowe, who, according to Amoroso, said that Jenrette was willing "to handle the immigration problem for us."
Amoroso said he told Stowe that his Arab clients had agreed to pay $50,000 if Jenrette promised to introduce a private immigration bill for them, and would pay another $50,000 when the legislation was introduced.
Government prosecutor John Kotelly then played the videotape of the Dec. 4 meeting. At one point, while Jenrette and Amoroso were alone together, Jenrette said: "At lunch today I had a little of the details laid out," and indicated a division of "35-15" or "40-10" -- an apparent reference to a discussion with Stowe about how they might divide the first $50,000.
On the tape, Amoroso offered Jenrette $50,000 immediately, but the congresssman repeatedly said that he wanted to wait until the next day, when his lawyer, Edward Bennett Williams, was to inform him on the status of an unrelated Justice Department investigation.
"I might in two days be totally ineffective to you," Jenrette told Amoroso, because if he were indicted as a result of the Justice Department investigation, any bill he introduced "almost could be toilet paper."
Amoroso then proposed giving Jenrette the money and telling Stowe, who was out of the room at the time, that Jenrette had not decided about the deal. Jenrette again refused.
Stowe "is going to be looking for that right now," Jenrette said in an apparent reference to Stowe's alleged expectation that he would get some of the money.
Jenrette said that if he were indicted in the separate Justice Department probe, he would feel "like a son of a b---walking in here tomorrow $15,000 short" -- apparently indicating that he would return any money he took, minus Stowe's share, if he thought he could not deliver on an immigration bill.
Jenrette was not indicted in that case.
The government contends that Jenrette arranged to have Stowe pick up $50,000 Dec. 6. Jenrette has acknowledged receiving $10,000 from Stowe, but he has insisted that it was a loan. Stowe's lawyer has contended that his client left $40,000 in Jenrette's office.