When Richmond businessman John R. Stowe arrived to pick up the $50,000 he said he intended to deliver to Rep. John W. Jenrette (D-S.C.), there was an awkward moment, video tapes shown to the jury in the Abscam case yesterday revealed.
There was the money, five packets of $100 bills, all laid out on a desk in a Northwest Washington house, but Stowe had nothing to carry it in. He had left his briefcase in his car.
"Don't I have a paper bag around here somewhere . . .?" asked FBI undercover agent Anthony Amoroso, posing as the "sheik's" agent. Rifling through the desk, Amoroso found that, indeed, he did. Helpfully, he placed the money into the bag, folded it and handed it to the waiting and obviously anxious Stowe.
"The first deal is always the hardest," said middleman Melvin Weinberg, consolingly, from off camera.
Jenrette and Stowe are on trial in U.S. District Court here on conspiracy and bribery charges. The case is part of the so-called Abscam investigation, in which FBI agents posingg as representatives of Arabs allegedly made payoffs to a number of congressmen in exchange for promises of assistance.
Many of the transactions were captured on videotape.
Yesterday, the jury, after watching the videotape of Stowe picking up the money, heard an audio recording of a telephone conversation between Amoroso and Jenrette about an hour after the pickup.
". . . You got the package . . . ?" asked Amoroso at one point.
"Everything's fine. I'll do my share of the work . .," replied Jenrette, who is accused with Stowe of soliciting payoffs in exchange for Jenrette's promise that he would introduce a private immigration bill for Amoroso's fictitious Arab clients.
Most of the court proceedings yesterday, before Judge John Garrett Penn, were taken up with the government's presentation of tape-recorded coversations and meetings involving Jenrette, 44, and Stowe, 50, his longtime friend.
On Tuesday, the jury saw an hourlong videotape of a meeting at the house on Dec. 4 between Jenrette, Stowe, Amoroso and Weinberg, whose contact with Stowe eventually led Jenrette to the FBI undercover operation. At that meeting, Jenrette discussed the chances that he could get private immigration legislation in motion in exchange for the money offered by Amoroso.
In those discussions, however, Jenrette turned aside Amoroso's immediate offer of $50,000, asked for more time and said he wanted to sleep on the idea. Yesterday, however, the jury heard a taped telephone coversation made on Dec. 5 in which Jenrette told Amoroso, ". . . I'm ready to go ahead. . . ." Jenrette said in that conversation that Stowe would pick up the money.
"And all the document [sic] that you have, uh, are clean as far as numbers and all?" Jenrette asked Amoroso in that conversation."Yeah, yeah, there's no problem about that whatsoever," Amoroso responded.
"Well, I'm going pretty much on trust on this, cuz I could, there could be, you know, shit, if I let you down, I'm gonna feel like a son of a bitch. I want to tell you that," Jenrette said on the tape.
"I don't think so cuz you told me that you're gonna be on the team and that you're gonna try," Amoroso responded.
"Well, I am," Jenrette said.
The jury has heard evidence that Jenrette and Stowe had been offered $50,000 on Jenrette's promise to introduce the immigration legislation and another $50,000 if the bill was introduced.
During the taped conversations with Amoroso, Jenrette said he was unable to meet with him again for a variety of reasons, including a dinner at the White House, votes on the House floor an an appointment with a private plane that was taking him to his home district in South Carolina.
Prosecutor John Kotelly has contended that the government's evidence will show that Jenrette was simply offering excuses and that he intended to have Stowe pick up the money to insulate him from any wrongdoing.
In a conversation taped Dec. 6, from the Rayburn Room at the capital, the jury heard Jenrette tell Amoroso that Stowe "keeps me just a little bit, a one step away from the section of the code about public officials . . ." That same day, Stowe picked up the money at the house on W Street NW.
The government also showed a videotape made on Jan. 7, 1980, in which Jenrette went to the house a second time, accompanied by Stowe, for another meeting with Amoroso and Weinberg. The tape showed Jenrette discussing a possible loan from the Arabs to shore up a real estate project he owned in South Carolina. He also told Amoroso and Weinberg that he knew a senator who would be willing to introduce immigration legislation for their client.
In a later taped telephone conversation, Jenrette identified the senator as Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), and said Thurmond would charge $125,000 for the bill.
Government prosecutor Kotelly has told the jury, however, that Jenrette intended to ask Thurmond to introduce the bill as a courtesy and that Jenrette intended to pocket the $125,000 for himself. Thurmond is expected to testify that he never discussed such a proposal with Jenrette.