Willard J. Moody and Johnny S. Joannou were conniving Virginia state legislators who personally concocted and directed a scheme to fix speeding tickets for their friends, relatives and legal clients, a federal prosecutor said today.
Or they were esteemed members of the Virginia General Assembly caught in a web of "monstrous lies" woven by a vengeful former business associate of Moody's, as their attorneys told the jury.
In the next week, a group of eight men and six women will decide which view of Moody and Joannou is accurate.
Moody, 60, who left public life last year after a long and influential career as a Democratic state senator, faces one count of conspiracy, three counts of mail fraud, three counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice. The charges arise from an alleged scheme to reduce or dismiss speeding charges by using phony documents purporting to prove that the cars involved had faulty speedometers.
Sen. Joannou, a first-term Democrat who apparently is the first Virginia legislator in recent years to be indicted on felony charges while in office, faces one count of conspiracy and 12 counts of mail fraud in connection with the alleged scam.
For both men, the political status they have enjoyed now looms as a potential liability in the third-floor courtroom in downtown Norfolk. In his opening remarks to jurors today, U.S. District Judge Richard L. Williams warned them not to judge Moody and Joannou more harshly because of their elected offices.
Moody's attorney, Wayne Lustig, asked the jury to consider Moody not as a state senator but as "a human being dealing with a vile individual," a trusting man who unfortunately put his faith in his business partner, Clarence Mixon, who Lustig referred to as "a liar and a thief."
Despite Lustig's characterization, Moody appears to have carried some of a politician's manners into the courtroom. While Joannou sat somberly off to the side of the courtroom, rocking back and forth in his chair, Moody took occasional strolls about the room to shake hands and tap the backs of supporters, flashing a bright smile.
The trial promises all the heat of the most vigorous legislative debate Moody and Joannou ever faced in Richmond. Their attorneys charged in opening statements today that federal prosecutors had based their entire case on the word of a convicted felon who dreamed up evidence against Moody and Joannou to save himself from further federal prosecution.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Aronica conceded in his opening statement that Mixon, the key witness, is an unsavory character who embezzled money from a car dealership he owned with Moody, and was involved as well in odometer tampering and repossession and kick-back schemes.
Mixon was sentenced last year to 18 months in prison and a $1,000 fine for two counts of wire fraud, but Aronica said Mixon's story is backed up by volumes of documents.
Aronica said that Joannou first brought up the idea of obtaining fake documents showing faulty speedometers -- called calibration certificates -- from Moody and Mixon's car dealerships in the mid-70s. Aronica told the jury Moody readily agreed to the scheme but lied about it to a grand jury.
The prosecutor said neither Moody nor Joannou received money for the allegedly phony documents, but that Joannou did obtain some of them for people who could boost his legal business.
Joannou's attorney, Stephen Swain, said both Joannou and his clients believed the certificates were real.