Monday, November 26, 2012

Mel Weinberg, Eric Holder, and the Horrors of Abscam (part 1)
by Ronald Kolb
Back in 2006, I was the person who uncovered the 1980 Murtha Abscam videotape. After contacting David Holman at the American Spectator, who arranged to retrieve it, the tape was eventually made public through both the Spectator and Fox News. John Murtha (D-PA) was attempting to become House Majority leader, and was defeated in a landslide by Steny Hoyer (D-MD).
It took me six weeks of pursuing leads until I located the tape. Eventually, I was given the name of retired Newsday reporter Robert Greene. After initially refusing to tell me, Greene then gave me the name: Mel Weinberg.
After tracking down Weinberg the following week, he immediately agreed to make the Murtha tape public, and I hoped he was doing it for the right reasons. After Murtha's defeat, and with the encouragement of virtually everyone, I decided to attempt a book about the entire scandal, and Weinberg had told me to keep him updated.
Back in the 1970's Weinberg was both an FBI informant and con man, and by 1977, the government had given up on him. That fall he was convicted of ten counts of fraud, but before he went to prison, he was given one last chance, and with another FBI agent concocted a sting involving fictitious Arab sheiks which would eventually become Abscam.
Over time, I would come to find the real story behind Abscam, which included the public suicide of Weinberg's wife because of her husband's behavior, and false charges to be filed against a gentleman named Kenneth MacDonald in order to cover-up for actions that the Justice Department--including a young staff attorney named Eric Holder--had determined that Weinberg had committed. A bipartisan Senate committee would also come to those same devastating conclusions.
When I first began to research the scandal in 2006, I quickly realized that it would be no easy task. Twenty people had been convicted, including a U.S. Senator and six congressmen, and there were ten different trials. In 2008, Bob Greene died, and after the funeral, Weinberg made two strange comments. First, he told me that Greene's son considered Abscam his story, because his father had written a book about Weinberg in 1981 called "The Sting Man."
Second, he asked me what research I had on Kenneth MacDonald, and if I would send it to him, which I did, but not asking why. At the time, I didn't have much material, because I wasn't even sure that I would touch on it. New Jersey Casino Commissioner MacDonald was the last Abscam figure to be indicted and died of cancer before his trial. At the time of Abscam, he wasn't technically a politician.
I soon began to look at the MacDonald case, and realized I would have to deal with it, because it was a crucial part of the investigation, and among the first bribes shown on tape. The case quickly became an enigma--MacDonald had passed an FBI background check of his finances, and some of the bribe money had been quickly recovered--none of it including his fingerprints. He had also passed a polygraph, but the government refused to conduct one.
Whenever I brought up the MacDonald case with Weinberg, he would get angry and tell me I was wasting my time. At one point I asked him if he thought MacDonald was guilty, and he paused and said, "I'm not sure."
There were also several articles that mentioned that Eric Holder, who in 2009 would become U. S. Attorney General, had been involved with the Abscam investigation, but none at the time mentioned the MacDonald case. I asked Weinberg if he remembered Holder's role in Abscam, and he told me he was unaware of any.
By September of 2009, I had obtained much of the research material, but was still missing crucial background information, including the case of Florida Rep. Richard Kelly (the only Abscam Republican politician), and the case of the two congressmen Murtha was involved with, Frank Thompson (D-NJ) and John Murphy (D-NY).
At this point, Weinberg contacted me and said someone was doing a documentary on Abscam, and he wanted me to send him some of the background material I had obtained which he would pass along to the filmmaker. After inquiring, he told me it was Eric Singer, who had written several film scripts that had been sold, but none had been produced until a 2009 movie called The International, which ended up being a critical and financial failure.
Knowing that I was more interested in an historical telling of Abscam than anything else, I somewhat reluctantly agreed to send it. While hearing nothing more about the film, I continued to search for the other background material. In the summer of 2010, I learned of Senate Abscam hearings in 1982, which were now online, and there was a final report, which was not.
In September, I was able to obtain the final report, and then quickly determined that the Senate must have had the tape transcripts I was still looking for. After a search in October, and then a follow-up inquiry again in November, I was able to locate them at a National Archives location.
But it was what was in the final report itself that was truly stunning. Much of the hearings and a large part of the final report dealt with Kenneth MacDonald, and what I learned was something that I did not want to believe and hoped was not true.
It also caused me to inquire about MacDonald tape transcripts within the Archives, but I was told that everything concerning that case was in the "closed" file. It will remain there until 2013, but even then will require permission from the FBI, Justice Department and Senate to gain access.
The report's devastating conclusion was that in 1979 Weinberg had used MacDonald as a ruse to split $100,000 in bribe money intended for MacDonald with another man, Angelo Errichetti, then the mayor of Camden, New Jersey.
The report also concluded that Weinberg had received a number of expensive gifts that he had convinced Errichetti and other Abscam "middlemen" to give him, and that he would then pass the gifts along so the middlemen could curry favor with the non-existent sheiks.
However the report concluded, Weinberg kept most of the gifts, and had committed perjury when asked about it in several venues, including the grand jury, before the Senate committee itself, at due process hearings and even at some of the Abscam trials--where Weinberg had been the main government witness.
The Case of Kenneth MacDonald
My initial focus after receiving the report was the MacDonald case and how it evolved. In 1978, the FBI had set up front offices near Weinberg's Long Island home called "Abdul Enterprises," and the initial focus was fraudulent securities and stolen art. John Good was the agent in charge of the Hauppauge, New York office, and he contacted Thomas Puccio, an assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn to prosecute any potential cases.
By December, the first politician became involved in the person of Errichetti, who was simultaneously a New Jersey state senator and the mayor of Camden. He was truly one of the corrupt figures of Abscam; I would come to find that many of the others were manipulated or entrapped. By January 1979, Errichetti was boasting of his influence with the state Casino Control Commission. At the time, the five-member commission was approving licenses for the burgeoning casino industry in Atlantic City.
Errichetti told the members of Abdul Enterprises that the Sheiks could have a casino built for $400,000 in bribe money that he would parcel out to the commissioners. On January 20, 1979, Errichetti was a given a down payment of $25,000 by Abdul board chairman Jack McCloud (FBI agent Jack McCarthy), the first Abscam bribe money to be passed.
Unknown by the FBI at the time, Errichetti had met with Weinberg at a nearby hotel the evening before, and Errichetti would later state that Weinberg had coached him on what to say. At the time, Errichetti had been claiming that he controlled most of the five commission members, and had singled out Kenneth MacDonald, the Vice Chairman.
MacDonald was the former Republican mayor of Haddonfield, New Jersey, a suburb of Philadelphia which is also located near Camden. MacDonald had a reputation of being above reproach, and had been nominated by Democratic governor Brendan Byrne.
On March 5, 1979, and after much prompting by "Abdul" employees Weinberg and Tony Devito (FBI agent Anthony Amoroso), Errichetti arranged a dinner meeting in Cherry Hill, New Jersey between MacDonald and Abdul staff, including board chairman McCloud, as well as Devito and Weinberg.
Also at the meeting with Errichetti was his nephew/chauffeur Joseph DiLorenzo. The only problem was that MacDonald said nothing wrong at the meeting, and he discussed how Abdul could contact the commission in order to legally obtain a casino license.
Throughout March, Errichetti was pushed, especially by Weinberg, to bring MacDonald to Long Island in order to give them $100,000 to guarantee a casino license. But Errichetti continued to make exculpatory comments about MacDonald, saying that he would never take any money.
By March 26, the Abscam team thought they had a commitment for Errichetti to bring MacDonald to Long Island and notified FBI headquarters in Washington. Puccio personally discussed the bribe offer with FBI Director William Webster. Philip Heymann, the director of the criminal division at the Justice Department also discussed it with Webster.
The next day, after members of the FBI hierarchy had signed onto a memo approving the bribe offer, including Associate Director Francis Mullen, Webster would do so as well. He added a handwritten note: "Deliver money only to Commissioner MacDonald." Basically, this same procedure would occur in advance of other bribes that were offered during Abscam.
On March 30, Errichetti and DiLorenzo drove to a Long Island Holiday Inn to meet with Weinberg. The FBI knew about this meeting but strangely chose not to wire Weinberg, and both Puccio and Good never gave a rational explanation. Errichetti would later say that this is when Weinberg and he went through several scenarios to entice MacDonald to come to Long Island the next day.
On Saturday, March 31, Errichetti and MacDonald went to a VA hospital groundbreaking in Camden, and Errichetti would later say that he convinced MacDonald to accompany him to Abdul's offices where Errichetti would receive a $50,000 payment for real estate work he had done for the sheik.
Errichetti, DiLorenzo and MacDonald then drove to the Abdul office in Holbrook, Long Island, arriving in mid-afternoon to meet with board chairman John McCloud (agent McCarthy). When Errichetti and McCarthy began discussing the money, MacDonald moved toward a nearby window, peering outside.
When McCarthy opened the briefcase filled with money, Errichetti reached for it, and McCarthy nearly shut it on Errichetti's hand. Once he was sure MacDonald had seen the cash, he let Errichetti retrieve it. As they left the office, MacDonald was mumbling and obviously flustered, and Errichetti gave the briefcase to his nephew, where it then ended up in the trunk.
Technically, Webster's directive was not followed, but Puccio would later insist that it was (he would also say that MacDonald was guilty just by being there). McCarthy later said he never saw the directive, and even more importantly, he would tell the grand jury there was no proof that MacDonald had ever received the money.
After MacDonald, Errichetti and DiLorenzo left the Abdul office, they went to a nearby Holiday Inn for lunch to a meeting that Errichetti had prearranged with Weinberg. Abdul "advisers" Weinberg and Tony Devito (FBI agent Anthony Amoroso--who would soon replace McCarthy/McCloud), would be there--and both of them were wired.
Because of background noise, most of the conversation was difficult to retrieve. But it was two exchanges near the end that did come out clearly. As they were walking outside, Errichetti was complaining to Weinberg about McCarthy/McCloud.
Errichetti: That fuckin' schmuck. I'll kill him...that guy was always fuckin' useless. This guy (MacDonald) was so fuckin' happy coming up here in the car. Will I see you tomorrow or what?
Weinberg: I'll give you a call. Don't worry about it. I'll explain to Tony (Devito).
Errichetti: There's nothing to tell.
Weinberg: Hey, I'll come see you tomorrow. Don't worry about it.
Errichetti: I won't say nothing to Tony.
Moments later, as Errichetti, DiLorenzo and MacDonald prepared to drive away, there was the following exchange:
Errichetti (to Weinberg): I'll call you tonight.
Weinberg: Don't worry about it.
Errichetti: I'll see you tomorrow.
It was those exchanges that would later take on a whole new meaning to investigators.
Nearly a year later, on January 18th, 1980, as the FBI was preparing to go public with the investigation, what would end up being nine major cases were parceled out by Philip Heymann, the chief of the criminal division at Justice. Heymann assigned cases to Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. Two of the cases, including MacDonald's, were assigned to Newark.
On February 2nd, the Abscam investigation went public, generating headlines around the world. Senator Harrison Williams (D-NJ) and seven congressmen (including Murtha) as well as MacDonald and Errichetti were among those mentioned as targets.
Two days later, MacDonald announced his resignation from the Casino Commission, saying that he did not want to have any taint connected with the organization, but that he had not done anything immoral or illegal.
In May, Errichetti was indicted in two Abscam related cases (he would eventually be indicted four times). Nothing was forthcoming yet from Newark, but serious allegations soon arose that would change the complexion of the MacDonald case and would eventually cause an earthquake to spread through both the FBI and Justice Department.
After the first bribe money was passed to Errichetti a year earlier, Robert Del Tufo, the U.S. Attorney in Newark, had been informed of the investigation by Puccio. Philip Heymann at Justice had ordered the Newark office to monitor and assist with the investigation, and Del Tufo assigned two assistant attorneys from his office, Edward Plaza and Robert Weir, to handle the Abscam cases.
Severe problems and disagreements eventually arose between Newark and Brooklyn. Plaza and Weir were restricted access to evidence and witnesses, particularly Weinberg. The two men also noticed the lack documentation and record keeping, which would be crucial for any potential trial.
Another case they were assigned to assist was that of Senator Williams. For months, an attempt was made to manipulate Williams to agree to use his influence to obtain government contracts for a bankrupt titanium mine, and the start-up money would come from the sheiks. Plaza and Weir discovered a tape where Weinberg had coached Williams just prior to a crucial recording. Plaza warned Weinberg to stop the practice but Weinberg said "if I don't put words in people's mouths, we won't have no cases."
Even though Weinberg had been warned not to coach targets, he soon continued the practice, coaching Errichetti on what to tell two Philadelphia Congressman, Michael Myers and Ray Lederer (this time to promise immigration assistance for the sheiks) which Weinberg would deny.
By June of 1980, a number of Abscam indictments had been issued, including Errichetti in both the Myers and Lederer cases. By the end of the year, six other indictments were returned.
The DiLorenzo allegations
But on June 10th, as Plaza and Weir were investigating a possible indictment of MacDonald and Errichetti, a bombshell was delivered by Joseph DiLorenzo, Errichetti's nephew. The two prosecutors met with him in the Trenton FBI office, along with Newark agent-in-charge Martin Houlihan.
And the story DiLorenzo told was an amazing one. He said that he drove his uncle to a Long Island Holiday Inn where he met with Weinberg the evening before Errichetti was given the $25,000 bribe by McCloud/McCarthy on January 20, 1979. He talked about delivering to Weinberg (at Errichetti's request), a number of expensive gifts throughout the first six months of 1979. The gifts included a betamax recorder, microwave oven, three television sets and a stereo (including the speakers).
But even more surprising was what DiLorenzo said had transpired during the weekend that the MacDonald money had been passed. He said that Errichetti told him on March 30 that they would be going to Long Island the next day, but it would be contingent upon MacDonald agreeing to come with them.
After picking MacDonald up, they went to the VA Hospital ceremony, and afterward proceeded to the Abdul office. DiLorenzo waited in the outer office, and when MacDonald came out, he looked angry and upset. Errichetti soon followed, and when they proceeded to the Holiday Inn for lunch, Errichetti had tried to calm MacDonald down.
During the meal, DiLorenzo remembered that either Weinberg, Errichetti or Amoroso said that the money was going back. He also remembered Errichetti saying something similar to MacDonald during the drive back to New Jersey as he still tried to calm him down.
After dropping MacDonald off, Errichetti and DiLorenzo returned to Long Island the next afternoon, and Errichetti was carrying a briefcase. They drove to a rest stop on the Long Island Expressway near the Holiday Inn, and a short time later Weinberg arrived.
Errichetti got out of their vehicle and went over to Weinberg's Lincoln with the briefcase. A short time later, he returned without the case, but showed his nephew a picture of a stereo system valued at $3300 that was available at Sam Goody's. Errichetti told him to buy something cheaper and deliver it to Weinberg.
Senate investigators later determined that the picture that DiLorenzo described was from an article in the April 1st New York Times Sunday Magazine describing a Pioneer stereo system valued at $3434. Investigators also determined that DiLorenzo purchased a less expensive stereo, speakers and a tape deck for $1300 at a New Jersey retailer on April 4, and he had soon delivered them to Weinberg, again at a rest stop on the Long Island Expressway.
When the stereo and other gifts were eventually discovered in 1982, it would lead to tragic consequences and cause national headlines.
On June 12th, two days after Plaza and Weir listened to DiLorenzo's statement, Weir traveled to Washington to report the stunning allegations. He met with Gerald McDowell, the chief of the Public Integrity office; Irvin Nathan, who was the deputy of the criminal division at Justice (and whose chief was Philip Heymann) and prosecutor Thomas Puccio.
Heymann, Nathan and McDowell would comprise the men in charge of Abscam at the Justice Department. Nathan would recommend who to indict to Heymann, and Heymann would discuss it with FBI Director Webster and then report the decision to the two top officials at Justice, Deputy Attorney General Charles Renfrew and Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, before any indictment was returned. McDowell's Public Integrity office would soon be assigned to handle the MacDonald case.
When Weir relayed the DiLorenzo allegations, Puccio said that DiLorenzo was lying. Others joined with Puccio in saying that there was a tape of a phone call that Weinberg made to Errichetti in Camden at 2:30 pm on April 1st, therefore providing him with the perfect alibi.
As for the gifts, Puccio said that any gifts should be removed from Weinberg's home and he should be coached on what to say. Weir immediately said that there would be no coaching, and McDowell and Nathan agreed (Plaza would later mention the gifts to Puccio. "You have to accept that sort of thing from him," he replied.)
FBI Director Webster, as well as agent John Good on Long Island, who was effectively in charge of both Weinberg and Abscam, were quickly notified of the DiLorenzo allegations. Days later at a prosecutor's meeting in Washington on June 18th, Good exploded in a rage at a prosecutor in an Abscam case from another jurisdiction when he had asked for access to Weinberg. Good then directed his fury at Plaza and Weir, calling them "enemies."
The next day, Plaza and Weir asked their boss, U.S. Attorney Robert Del Tufo, to be taken off Abscam, writing that "it is our sworn duty to seek out the truth," and that they would not "participate in such an endeavor." Del Tufo still wanted Plaza and Weir to stay on, but on the 24th, at a meeting in Washington that included Heymann and McDowell, Irvin Nathan told Del Tufo that the Abscam team did not wish to deal with New Jersey any longer, and added that an indictment should quickly be handed down in the MacDonald case.
Nathan added that Puccio had interviewed Weinberg about the gifts, and that Weinberg had denied receiving them. After the meeting, Del Tufo privately spoke with Heymann, and agreed to replace Plaza and Weir with two attorneys from Washington, and that they be debriefed on the MacDonald case. On June 30, Del Tufo made it official, sending a letter to Heymann agreeing to the change.
By late August, the two young attorneys from Washington arrived in Newark. They were from the Public Integrity section and their names were Reid Weingarten and Eric Holder.
Eric Holder and the MacDonald case
The Public Integrity section was technically a part of the Justice Department Criminal Division, and was created in 1976 as a response to the Watergate scandal of the Nixon years. Holder and Weingarten were among the first to join the unit, and for Holder it was reportedly his first job after graduating from Columbia Law School. The two men have become lifelong friends ever since.
Del Tufo had planned on leaving the Newark office that September to go into private practice because of the increased educational costs of his children. William Robertson, his chief assistant attorney, was slated to replace him. During the summer, Robertson familiarized himself with Abscam, and by late August would become supervisor for both Weingarten and Holder.
After the two were debriefed by Plaza and Weir, Robertson met in Washington with Heymann and Public Integrity Chief McDowell and made clear that a factual record be made before any indictment of MacDonald and that Holder and Weingarten would present any case to the grand jury.
Between September and December of 1980, the two began interviewing witnesses before the grand jury, and also began documenting the case. On November 28, in a status report sent to McDowell and Robertson, they noted some problems, including the lack of supervision of Weinberg and the failure to keep adequate records.
But they also concluded that the allegations by DiLorenzo were false because of the phone call by Weinberg to Errichetti in Camden at 2:30 pm on April 1, 1979. It was impossible for Errichetti to be at two places at the same time.
On December 3rd, Robertson met with Weingarten and Holder, and they informed him that Heymann, Nathan and McDowell wanted charges to be filed against MacDonald by December 18th. They also informed him that there was opposition to having Weinberg appear before the grand jury, something that Robertson insisted on.
After the meeting, Weingarten privately approached Robertson, and said that "Washington" wanted to gauge his reaction to having the MacDonald case transferred to Brooklyn, which was in Puccio's domain. Robertson mentioned that given all their work in Newark, and that there had been no determination yet of the case, it should remain in New Jersey. Weingarten agreed that he also preferred to stay in Newark, and Robertson later informed him that moving the case would be considered "forum shopping."
Since Weinberg would not be coming to Newark, Robertson ordered Holder and Weingarten to access all transcripts involving Weinberg, including due process hearings and grand jury and trial testimony in order to make a record they could present to the grand jury.
When the transcripts arrived in early December, he assigned Plaza and Weir to report to him on any problems that they noted. They prepared a report dated December 17, which would eventually set off a chain reaction and cause open warfare between New Jersey and Washington.
Also in mid-December, Holder and Weingarten would discover something astonishing that would rock the MacDonald case to its core. They had followed up on some of Plaza and Weir's work in an attempt to verify or shoot down the DiLorenzo allegations.
They were able to obtain background information, including phone records, that the two previous men were denied. It all began to come unraveled with the April 1, 1979 phone call that Weinberg had made to Errichetti.
It lasted eight minutes, and began with Weinberg using this preamble: "April 1, 2:30 pm, Sunday. I am returning the Mayor's call." Once Errichetti was on the line, he told Weinberg that MacDonald was "all shook up."
Then they discussed the prearranged fact that some of the money would be returned. Before the bribe money had passed, the Abscam team had worked out a ruse to have Errichetti return $25,000 because "Devito" needed the money to repair fire damage to the sheik's yacht, which had earlier been used as part of the Abscam sting.
Errichetti said that when MacDonald had started counting the money and told him about Tony's plight, that MacDonald "whipped it right out and said give it to Tony." But after Errichetti returned the money to another member of the Abscam team on April 3rd, none of the money had MacDonald's fingerprints on it (Errichetti would later testify that he and Weinberg evenly split the remaining $75,000.)
The phone call continued with Errichetti saying that MacDonald had "scared the hell out of everybody," but now he was pleased. "I got the 25, he's got the 75."
The only problem was that the call was not made at 2:30 on April 1, but at 4:54 pm.
When Weingarten and Holder looked at the phone logs, they were stunned. Then they began to systematically check the hundreds of other phone calls and transcripts that Weinberg had made. And none of the others started with a preamble.
Senate investigators would later discover that Weinberg had written the false time on the outside of the tape itself, and had quickly turned it over to the FBI Hauppauge office staff. This was also the only time he had ever done that.
They also determined that the call was prearranged by Errichetti and Weinberg to convince "Abdul Enterprises" that MacDonald had received part of the money. Errichetti would later say that Weinberg had told him another Abdul employee (an FBI agent who was the sheik's "mistress") would be listening in to confirm it.
They also noted the artificial sound of Errichetti's natural tone, which would normally be loaded with obscenities.
When Holder and Weingarten questioned Weinberg about the April 1st tape discrepancy, he had no rational explanation. They also discovered that Weinberg had made a credit card call from the Long Island Holiday Inn on January 19th, 1979, the day before the first bribe money had been passed to Errichetti.
Weinberg had denied being there, but suddenly remembered that he had, but still denied coaching Errichetti. These new developments troubled Weingarten so much that he immediately informed Robertson. Holder and Weingarten soon told Robertson that Weinberg could not be used as a reliable witness at any trial, and later repeated this to Plaza and Weir.
Around this same time, Plaza and Weir finished their report about discrepancies in the various Abscam-related testimony. There were contradictions about whether anyone from Puccio's team had admonished Weinberg about coaching and exactly how much he was being paid as well the contradictions about the gifts. Robertson then forwarded the Plaza/Weir memo to Heymann on December 17th. Nothing was heard until January 7, when all hell broke loose.
The day before, Nathan had prepared a memo addressed to Heymann savaging Plaza and Weir, and it basically accused them of being lazy. The Nathan memo immediately leaked to the press, and on the afternoon of the 7th, McDowell called Robertson to tell him that William Hendricks, the deputy at Public Integrity, would be debriefing Plaza and Weir.
Two hours later, Robertson received a call from Puccio that George Pratt--the trial judge in the ongoing trial of Congressman Lederer--had ordered Plaza and Weir to appear in court the next morning. When the two arrived the next day they were debriefed separately by Hendricks, but in reality it was a lengthy interrogation. Their Lederer testimony focused on their discovery of the Weinberg/Williams coaching tape, and how Plaza had admonished Weinberg.
On the 9th, Robertson sent a memo to top Justice officials Benjamin Civiletti and Charles Renfrew detailing inaccuracies in the Nathan memo. Renfrew ordered Robertson to appear in his office on the 12th, and when he arrived Heymann was laying in wait, and repeatedly admonished Robertson (Heymann would later tell Congress that Abscam was "almost unparalleled in it's care and it's openness to all views)."
Robertson noted that the meeting was improper, and that everyone involved should withdrawal from the MacDonald case as well as Abscam, and he asked to meet with Attorney General Civiletti.
That meeting took place on the 14th, and Robertson spoke of problems with the Nathan memo and with Abscam itself. Civiletti quickly issued a directive--the most important part being that by the January 23rd, the first full workday of the Reagan administration, Renfrew would make a decision on whether to indict MacDonald.
On January 15, Plaza was appearing at a due process hearing in Judge Pratt's Brooklyn court that had been requested by several Abscam defense attorneys. Pratt would handle several of the major Abscam trials, and would later be judge in the MacDonald case.
Plaza brought up the DiLorenzo allegations, and mentioned that Weingarten had told him about the false preamble on the crucial April 1st alibi tape. Pratt then asked Plaza if he knew of other prosecutors that had problems with Abscam, and Plaza mentioned three more, including Holder.
Pratt: H-o-l-d-e-r?
Plaza: I believe that's the way his name is spelled.
Pratt: Where is he from?
Plaza: He is from the Public Integrity Section down in Washington, D.C., as is Mr. Weingarten.
Pratt: And when did Mr. Holder express these concerns to you?
Plaza: During the last couple of months, sir.
Later, the subject came up again, and Plaza noted that Weingarten had problems with Weinberg's credibility.
Pratt: How about Holder?
Plaza: I don't recall him specifying, Judge. It was just—
Pratt: Was it a more generalized concern?
Plaza: Yes.
Pratt: And this was also focused on Weinberg?
Plaza: Yes.
Pratt: Or other aspects of the investigation?
Plaza: Especially Weinberg, your honor.
Also during the hearing, Edward Korman, the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn--who was Puccio's superior--continued to attack Plaza and run flack for Puccio, who had called Plaza a "saboteur" during his testimony.
By January 22nd, Attorney General Civiletti had left Justice, and Robertson met with then acting Attorney General Renfrew. Irvin Nathan was with him, and the meeting turned into an inquisition. Both Renfrew and Nathan made it clear that they weren't interested in any misconduct or other information that could undermine Abscam, and Renfrew made it clear to Robertson that he, Plaza and Weir were guilty of misconduct and that he would recommend that they be brought up on charges.
It would eventually be reported that the Office of Professional Responsibility had not only cleared all three men, but investigated the claims of misconduct during Abscam that the three had made. The office also strongly criticized the behavior of both Renfrew and Nathan, and OPR chief Michael Shaheen added that "our finding was that Plaza and Weir were not guilty of any improper conduct."
After the Renfrew meeting, Newark's involvement was effectively over, but the MacDonald case was about to get a whole lot messier.
The McDowell/Keeney memo
By January 23rd, as the Reagan team was settling in, Philip Heymann had already left his position as head of the criminal division. John Keeney was now the acting chief. Keeney had been at Justice since 1951, and had filled in previously for a number of various vacancies. That day he received a memo from Gerald McDowell, who was Holder and Weingarten's chief at Public Integrity.
It would be a memo that the Justice Department moved heaven and earth to keep away from both the Errichetti and MacDonald attorneys as well as the House and Senate. It was discovered in late 1982 after MacDonald's death by Ralph Soda of Gannett and stories soon followed in the Associated Press, Village Voice and The American Lawyer.
Soda later reported that the memo was buried by Judge Pratt during the discovery phase of the MacDonald trial.
And the contents of the memo were explosive. According to Soda, McDowell wrote Keeney that even though there were problems with the evidence, MacDonald should be indicted "to conceal the fact that a key member of the undercover team (Weinberg), together with a middleman (Errichetti), pocketed $75,000 in federal bribe money the defendant (MacDonald) was charged with receiving."
"In truth," continued the memo, "we can show no money from the payoffs going to MacDonald." In dealing with the alibi tape, McDowell wrote "that by ending the conspiracy on March 31, we lose the use of the April 1 tape," and that the tape was "evidence that must at this time be viewed as suspect."
McDowell also cautioned that in prosecuting MacDonald, the government should divorce itself as much as possible from Weinberg, with "as little reliance" from him as possible.
The memo contained even more bombshells. The indictment was necessary to "buttress the government's cases against other defendants" in the Abscam probe. The MacDonald case was the "the heart and soul" of the Atlantic City investigation, and that "a decision not to prosecute would cast doubt on everything that has been accomplished thus far."
McDowell even raised points that MacDonald may use in his defense, one of them being that Errichetti was a legendary braggart who had puffed up his relationship with MacDonald to the Abdul people.
The disclosure caused Justin Walder (who had been MacDonald's attorney) to say that "there has never been any evidence that MacDonald agreed to accept the bribe. In fact there is evidence to the contrary," and that the memo "should have been made available to us." But in 1983, Puccio told Steven Brill of The American Lawyer that the memo was "insignificant bullshit."
By mid-February of 1981, after McDowell wrote the still secret memo, the AP reported that the Justice Department had decided to move the MacDonald case from Newark to Brooklyn, under Judge Pratt. And on March 5, 1981 an extraordinary thing happened in Judge Curtis Meanor's chambers in Newark.
William Robertson, who was still the U.S. Attorney but had been relieved of the MacDonald case, showed up with Holder and Weingarten. Robertson said the two men were under instructions from John Keeney to advise the grand jury to agree to transfer the MacDonald case to Brooklyn. After there had been the initial press reports, a member of the grand jury sent a letter to Meanor asking why.
An angry Judge Meanor asked the three men "by what authority is such a transfer, quote unquote, made? Show me some statutes, some case that says the Department of Justice can take a case from a grand jury in Newark, take it to Brooklyn or New York or Boston, wherever it desires, over the protest of the grand jury."
Robertson noted the grand jury's objection, but repeated that Holder and Weingarten had been instructed by Keeney to address the jury. Weingarten then told Meanor that he and Holder had carried out their grand jury assignment over the last five months, and that we "traveled down several roads of collateral potential criminal violations and essentially came up dry."
Weingarten added that he didn't want to suggest that the government could get a better deal in Brooklyn, and noted the problems that existed between Newark and the Abscam team. He noted that it would more comfortable for everyone if the case was transferred to Brooklyn. After making the argument to the grand jury, they reluctantly agreed, and the case was transferred to Pratt and Puccio.
Just two days prior to the Newark hearing, Justin Walder met with Holder, Weingarten, and McDowell and requested that the government conduct a polygraph of his client. MacDonald had already taken and passed a private polygraph test, and Weingarten and Holder were in favor of the idea. They said that they would get back to him.
A few days later, Walder was told that before they could render a decision that "we need to interrogate Mr. MacDonald to see if there are specific areas that might permit a meaningful polygraph examination." After discussing it with MacDonald, they both agreed to go to Washington.
This would lead to another extraordinary event. On March 23, 1981, they arrived in an office full of nine or ten individuals, including Holder, Weingarten, McDowell and others from the FBI and Justice Department. MacDonald was questioned for most of the day, and Walder only watched, saying nothing. McDowell left at lunch and never returned. MacDonald answered all their questions, and he and Walder were told that they would be recontacted. Walder kept reaching out, and finally spoke with Weingarten in May, just one month before the indictment.
Weingarten said that he was in favor of a polygraph, "but others have something to say. There is nothing I can do about it." Walder got the impression that Holder was in favor of it as well. Walder later learned that McDowell had discussed the polygraph with John Keeney, and that it was McDowell who rejected the idea, overruling Weingarten and Holder.
Also in May, Edward Plaza ran into Holder at a due process hearing for Congressman John Jenrette (D-SC) who had been convicted of Abscam charges in Washington in 1980. Public Integrity had assisted in that case, and Holder and Weingarten had also been involved.
At the hearing--which included a comment from Irvin Nathan that it didn't matter whether Weinberg had been accepting gifts--Holder told Plaza that, "Ed, you won't believe how far we have come to embrace all the views that you had about Abscam," and that he and Weingarten had written another memo about the MacDonald case, which they had completed two months before.
"And the boys up front are not happy with us," said Holder. He added that he and Weingarten would soon be off the case.
But, apparently, they remained on the case. The eight-page indictment of MacDonald and Errichetti was issued on June 18, 1981. Weingarten would later tell Senate investigators that he had written the prosecution memo that went with the indictment but did not wish to prosecute the case, which was eventually assigned to two other Public Integrity lawyers.
The indictment itself charged that MacDonald and Errichetti had conspired to obtain the bribe money, and both had shared it as well. They were charges that the government, as well as both Holder and Weingarten, had determined were false.
And in August of 1981, two months after the indictment, Errichetti swore out a five-page affidavit detailing how he and Weinberg had set-up MacDonald. On the first page, Errichetti said that, "I am giving this affidavit based on discussions with Mr. Reid H. Weingarten of the Department of Justice, Public Integrity Section, and based upon the expressed desire to do justice and not charge an innocent person (MacDonald)."
The affidavit closely resembled the allegations of his nephew, Joseph DilLorenzo, a year before except for one thing: Errichetti had later told MacDonald that he had returned the money.
As for exactly when Weingarten and Holder were no longer involved with the MacDonald case, the only way to possibly find out would be to access the full government records of it, which are still under seal, and will likely remain so.
The fact remains that no one at Public Integrity, the Justice Department, or FBI spoke up even after the indictment. It would not only destroy Kenneth MacDonald's reputation, but in 1982, would lead to further tragedy.

Mel Weinberg, Eric Holder, and the Horrors of Abscam (part 2)
The Tragedy of Marie Weinberg
When I first contacted Weinberg in my search for the Murtha tape in 2006, one thing that jumped out at me was the death of Weinberg's wife Marie in 1982. She had been making allegations about expensive gifts that Weinberg had received from Abscam middlemen, and subsequently committed suicide.
Weinberg told me she was just a crazy woman, and that he had returned three gold watches to the FBI. During Abscam, when he was asked about the other gifts under oath as well as an appearance on ABC's 20/20, he mentioned the watches again.
In 2010, after learning about the MacDonald case and Weinberg's receipt of gifts from the Senate report, I at first focused on Kenneth MacDonald, and in 2011 my attention turned to the gifts. Marie had also made charges concerning the MacDonald bribe money, so I decided to take a closer look.
In April of 1981, and two months before the MacDonald indictment, Bob Greene's book about Weinberg entitled "The Sting Man" was published. The book noted that Weinberg had a longtime mistress that had pulled off other cons with him before Abscam.
Marie was shaken, but Weinberg assured her that Greene had only written that to sell books. The Weinberg's had married in the early 1960's, and by the beginning of Abscam in 1978, they were living on Long Island with their teenage adoptive son.
In the summer of 1979, and at the height of Abscam, they moved to a condominium in Tequesta Hills, Florida, along that state's central Atlantic coast. With them went the mysterious gifts that started arriving at their home in the early months of 1979 that Weinberg would say were from friends.
Unknown to Marie at the time, Evelyn Knight, Weinberg's English-born mistress, followed them from Long Island to Florida. Weinberg set her up in a nearly identical condominium 15 miles away in Stuart, Florida, that even included similar furnishings.
Weinberg had been telling Marie that he was helping a trucking official from England, "Sir Robert Gordon" and his wife set up the condo in Stuart. On a rainy Halloween night in 1981, Marie followed through on her suspicions, and drove to Stuart, having no success.
The next morning, she tried again, and came across a condo with the word "Weinberg" on the front fence. Going inside, she confronted Knight. Weinberg was upstairs, but would not come down.
Marie was stunned, and Weinberg soon moved to Stuart with Evelyn. Their son stayed with Marie, but she was personally devastated. Weinberg asked her to delay a divorce until a movie deal was done for "The Sting Man," but Marie hired a lawyer, Michael Dennis, who had also represented another Abscam defendant.
She also approached the famous investigative journalist, Jack Anderson. After initially supporting Abscam, Anderson had soured on the investigation because of their tactics, but mostly it was because of Weinberg.
Anderson assigned a trusted member of his staff, Indy Badhwar, to work on the story. Badhwar and Marie started speaking by phone, which they would continue over the next two months. Badhwar was taping and transcribing the calls, which at first they both thought would remain a secret. But before long, Weinberg and the FBI had found out, and the threats and intimidation began.
The transcripts themselves document the horror and terror that Marie was subjected to. She told Badhwar that her heart stopped when she first saw the name "Weinberg" on the condo in Stuart.
She mentioned that Weinberg had been yelling at her soon after she discovered the mistress. She told Badhwar that she was born without a family and had been raised in foster homes, and was shocked that Weinberg had done that to her because he was her whole world.
Bob Greene spoke with her and told her not to be too hasty because of the movie, and Weinberg asked her to wait three months for a divorce. She then told Badhwar before Thanksgiving that she felt depressed and sick and that their son had known everything.
On November 22, when she personally went to meet with Badhwar, a number of FBI agents showed up at her residence and told an inquiring neighbor that the condo was under surveillance.
Marie then told Badhwar about how Weinberg had compromised the Abscam team with loans and gifts (something that Amoroso, Good and McCarthy later admitted in affidavits). She spoke of how much Judge Pratt--who handled a majority of the Abscam cases--had liked Weinberg and how he had charmed Pratt.
She added that Weinberg had turned over the three gold watches from George Katz because the Abscam team found out about them (Senate investigators concluded that Weinberg likely feared that they would be discovered.)
They also discussed the MacDonald money being split from three years earlier, and even though her memory was slightly hazy, her recollections were close to what DiLorenzo and Errichetti had said.
And still the tapes continued. Weinberg said that he would ruin her, and screamed that the movie deal was supposed to be signed in January. Weinberg told her that he would lie about her and try and create something. Marie responded that it had all been a shock to her, but that Weinberg couldn't care less, and that someday he would realize what he'd lost.
In late December, before doing any articles, Anderson decided to inform the Justice Department of the misconduct that was being alleged, and insisted the Department not inform the FBI. On January 6th, the Justice Department decided to inform Judge Pratt, so he could let the Abscam defense attorneys know of the allegations.
On January 9th, at Marie’s condo were Badhwar, Richard Bast (a private investigator associated with Marie's lawyer), and Gordon Freedman, a producer with ABC's 20/20 who interviewed her that day. The explosive interview would be broadcast days later.
After Badhwar and Freedman left, two FBI agents, Joseph Smith and Ivan Ford, showed up at her door. After getting their names and badge numbers, she told them to call her attorney, and they departed (former agent Ford, who is a currently on the Florida State Ethics Commission, refused to answer my questions, and angrily accused me of taping him.)
At this point, Anderson and Badhwar contacted the local police, saying that Marie should be protected after she had received threats from Weinberg.
On January 16th, word leaked to the press that the Justice Department was investigating both Weinberg and the FBI. On that same day, Marie Weinberg swore out an affidavit.
She repeated the allegations of how Weinberg had compromised members of the Abscam team, and how the FBI had been intimidating her. She repeated the allegations about the bribe money being split. She said that Weinberg had told her that all the mysterious gifts were from a "friend." And then she added another stunning allegation.
During the first major Abscam trial in Brooklyn of Michael Myers in August of 1980, Weinberg called in a panic and told her to remove the gifts from the condo and put them in a safe place. With the help of her son, they moved them to a nearby vacant condo that she was caretaking for and moved them back after Weinberg told her it was safe.
It turns out that during the trial, Errichetti's lawyer Raymond Brown, brought up the gifts, and Weinberg, of course, denied receiving any. Prosecutor Thomas Puccio then brought up the three gold watches from George Katz that Weinberg had returned, and even though Brown vehemently objected, Judge Pratt overruled him.
And the condo where the gifts were secreted would come to have an ironic and cruel twist of fate.
Marie finished the affidavit by stating that Weinberg had committed perjury with the knowledge of the FBI, and "I will be glad to testify under oath in any court as to the truth of the foregoing."
Anderson published his first article about the explosive allegations on January 18th, and the affidavit was filed the next morning. Anderson's articles would run for four consecutive days. In the first, Anderson noted that Marie had stated that Weinberg had compromised members of the Abscam team and pocketed the MacDonald money, and may be guilty of perjury and conspiracy.
The next article reported that John Good, the FBI agent in charge of both Weinberg and Abscam, had repeatedly been trying to contact her, but she refused. Anderson then wrote of Marie's intimidation from a number of agents, and finished with the fact that Weinberg had threatened to retaliate against her if she continued cooperating with his reporters.
On January 21st, the last of the four articles noted that Evelyn Knight had legally changed her name to Weinberg in June of 1981, and reported the confrontation between the two women months earlier, when Evelyn coolly admitted to a stunned Marie that the affair had been going on for fourteen years.
Anderson then noted that ABC's 20/20 would be airing a special report on Abscam that same night. I have obtained copies of the broadcast from both ABC as well as a private individual.
January 21, 1982: The 20/20 Broadcast
The segment was the first one of the evening, and was entitled "The Abscam Scam" and lasted for 16 minutes. Hugh Downs introduced the segment, which was reported by longtime ABC correspondent Tom Jarriel. It began with Harrison Williams, noting his upcoming expulsion trial in the Senate. But for the next ten minutes, the focus was on the Weinbergs.
Jarriel led Weinberg into a room with a TV that had been set up to playback Marie's interview. Marie, who was 50 years old and attractive for her age, came across as a sympathetic victim. Weinberg plainly came across as evasive and dishonest.
Jarriel noted the allegations that Weinberg had received payoffs, and that he had denied under oath receiving the gifts. The gifts were shown on the screen inside the condo, and Marie ran through the list, mentioning the TV's, betamax, microwave and the stereo with the speakers.
Weinberg then attempted the Katz "gold watch" ruse. "Whatever gifts I received, including the most important gifts, were the three gold watches, was (sic) turned over to the government," he said. But about the other gifts, Jarriel asked, "can there be that much of a coincidence?"
Jarriel then reported that "those serial numbers are important because they could provide the essential clue that could implicate Mel Weinberg in perjury."
Then Marie pulled the microwave from the wall and showed the missing serial numbers.
Jarriel said to Weinberg that Marie "says that you took a screwdriver and eradicated not only the serial number on the microwave, but she claims that you also took them off three Sony television sets in the house."
"I took them off three Sony television sets?" a shaken Weinberg asked. "I can't do anything she claimed. If you expect me to come and knock her and say what she is, that's no good."
Jarriel then noted that, "20/20 did find the serial numbers still on that expensive stereo set and Genesis speaker cabinets. Using those identification numbers we traced them to the very store in New Jersey where another of Mel Weinberg's accusers under oath (DiLorenzo) said he had bought them for Mel to give to the Sheik."
Then Jarriel noted the allegations about how Weinberg had compromised members of the Abscam team. Next, Marie spoke of the bribe money that Weinberg allegedly received, but she did not mention MacDonald's name.
The Weinberg part of the segment concluded with images of the nearly identical condos, and then showed a crestfallen and devastated Marie.
The final minutes of the report focused on Senator Williams, whose expulsion trial would soon begin. Two of the jurors from the original case appeared. The first was Salvatore Ottaviano, who was the last remaining holdout during the trial. The other was Ralph Monaco, the jury foreman.
Jarriel introduced a memo concerning the Williams case that Judge Pratt had buried during the trial. It had been sent from FBI Section Chief W.D. (Douglas) Gow in late November of 1979. At that point, Williams had not directly taken any bribe money, and Gow wrote FBI Associate Director Francis Mullen that it was necessary to recontact Williams in order for him to commit an "overt act."
Monaco said that the memo would have likely led to a hung jury. Ottaviano said that he had voted guilty "much to my regret," and added that the memo "would have been my ace in the hole. I would have my rock to hold on to." Ottaviano would also sign an affidavit saying that he would have voted for an acquittal, and would not have changed his mind.
Marie received a telephone death threat minutes after the broadcast. Weinberg began circulating stories to the press that Marie was a liar and mentally unstable. The next evening, she talked to Rev. Richard Duke from a local Seventh-day Adventist church, whom she had recently been confiding.
Duke noted that "she was very upset," because of the death threat the evening before. Then, prompted by stories that Weinberg was circulating, including the fact that she had attempted to kill herself 20 years earlier, Duke asked her if she was considering suicide.
"No, I would never do that," because Weinberg would get custody of their son.
Meanwhile, in an emergency hearing, Senator Williams asked that Judge Pratt delay his sentencing, which was scheduled for the next week. Pratt refused without comment, after Puccio argued that "even if one were to accept all of Mrs. Weinberg's allegations--which we do not--they would clearly not form the basis for a new trial." Puccio added that Weinberg's credibility (who was the main government witness) "was not a real issue."
Anderson published another article noting previous rulings from Pratt (with Puccio's assistance) dismissing the allegations against Weinberg. Anderson then detailed some of Weinberg's previous suspect testimony concerning the gifts.
In a further article written on the 25th, Anderson recounted recent conversations that the Weinberg's had. Weinberg told Marie that there would be a Congressional hearing, and that "you can't handle the pressure." Marie responded that she couldn't be hurt anymore, because "all I have is the truth." Weinberg further threatened that he would have men allege that she was promiscuous in order to get custody of their son as well as to destroy her credibility.
That same day, Marie mailed a nineteen-page narrative of Abscam to her attorney Michael Dennis in preparation for an appearance just days away before Congress. The narrative contained even more information about agents that Weinberg had compromised, as well as even more threats against Marie.
On the 26th, Judge Pratt delayed sentencing of Senator Williams, who had slipped on some ice the day before and underwent emergency hernia surgery. Also in Pratt's courtroom, a pre-trial hearing was taking place on the MacDonald case, which was scheduled to begin in three days.
MacDonald's lawyers had requested background material, most of which was denied, including the McDowell/Keeney memo and both of the Weingarten/Holder status reports. The denials were signed by U.S. Attorney Edward Korman (Puccio's supervisor) and Public Integrity lawyers William Hendricks and Jo Ann Farrington, who had now inherited the case.
But when the sun had dawned on that day, no one could have foreseen the tragedy that was about to unfold. When the Weinberg's son returned to Marie's condominium that afternoon, she was missing, but her wallet and car keys were still there. Soon, an all-points bulletin and nationwide search began.
Two days later, on January 28th, June Pawlaczyk, who was a nearby neighbor of Marie, received a call from her daughter in Michigan, suggesting that the nearby condo that Marie was caretaking for be checked. June's husband Al was ready to try, but she insisted that he not go alone. They contacted Reverend Duke, and the two men headed for the condo just before 4 p.m.
Pawlaczyk jumped the gate, and the two men entered. When they first saw Marie, they thought she was alive. She was in a sitting position at the bottom of the first floor steps. Then they noticed a clothesline around her neck, and the other end was tied around a banister at the top of the second floor stairwell. Marie Weinberg was dead.
Nearby, a table was set up with a suicide note on it, and a rose was placed on top of the note. It was written in cursive on a single sheet of yellow legal paper in her own handwriting.
It was dated "1-26-82," and began, "The only one who can forgive me is God."
"My sin was wanting to love and be loved, nothing more." Then mentioning Weinberg she wrote, "I haven't the strength to fight him anymore," and added that, "Everything I have attested to is the God is my witness."
After mentioning Weinberg's threats to take her son away, she finished the note by writing, "maybe if I had done something, spoken up earlier it might have changed things--The guilt is too much--forgive me."
The day that Marie was found happened to be exactly one week after her 20/20 interview was shown. That night, they broadcast the stunning update. Hugh Downs, the show's co-host, narrated. As Marie's body was wheeled away from the condominium, Downs intoned: "Today, Marie Weinberg was found dead in a neighboring apartment in Stuart, Florida, an apparent suicide."
The suicide note was then shown onscreen, and Downs said that in the note, "she stated that everything she had said about Abscam and her husband is true, and that she could no longer stand what she described as threats and harassment from her husband." The report ended with a replay of Marie speaking about Weinberg from the previous week's program in what Downs called a "tragically prophetic" passage.
"And I said to him, one word when we came back home, I said, Mel, what you did, I loved you, I trusted day, you're gonna want me and you're gonna miss what you had."
But Weinberg wasn't through attacking Marie, and he also tried to shift the blame to Jack Anderson, telling UPI that "when they take a mentally sick woman and put her in a position like this, they are to blame."
But Weinberg continued his attacks against her for days. He tried to contact a number of reporters with statements demeaning Marie. He succeeded with The Stuart News, a local Florida newspaper. They at first reported that friends and acquaintances of Marie noticed that she had been upset and distraught. But Weinberg had befriended one reporter there named Steve Tinney, who continually reported Weinberg's attacks, and with little background or research.
Weinberg blamed everyone but himself, including Anderson, Indy Badhwar, and Marie's attorney, Michael Dennis."I hope they all feel real good right now, I blame them for everything." He again called Marie mentally unstable and said that "I never ever threatened to take our son from her."
About the suicide note, Weinberg said, "I wonder who she left the note for...I just can't figure it out."
Three days after Marie was found, Michael Dennis was quoted in the Stuart News saying it was Weinberg, not Anderson, who had caused Marie so much grief.
"He's nuts," said Weinberg. "he knows I never put any pressure on Marie about anything. It's a bunch of crap." But Weinberg continued on. "It's a damn shame that they pushed and pushed some mentally incompetent woman to say a lot of things she really knows nothing about."
Weinberg added that, “I'm not worried one bit about anything Anderson wrote. It's all nonsense."
Marie's funeral took place on Sunday, January 31, but without her body, which was still in the morgue. Weinberg stated that he wanted the funeral over quickly. A People magazine article (which is the first of many Google links about Marie's death when entering "Weinberg Abscam"), noted that Weinberg was laughing and joking outside the church during the service.
A caption within the print edition of the article quoted Weinberg saying that "nobody's going to cry at her funeral." Weinberg contacted the author of the piece, Greg Walter, threatening him with expletives and promised to "split his head open." Weinberg's tirades against Marie would continue well into February.
On February 16, Judge Pratt sentenced Senator Williams to three years in prison, dooming any chances for him to survive his expulsion trial in March. He resigned on March 11, 1982.
Four days earlier, Weinberg married his longtime mistress, Evelyn Knight, just five weeks after Marie's body had been found. The two had obtained a marriage license only three weeks after Marie was discovered.
But for Kenneth MacDonald, the nightmare was not quite over. His trial was to begin on January 29, a day after Marie was found, and was delayed until April 30. In early February, MacDonald was admitted to a Philadelphia hospital, and was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. Both MacDonald's doctor's as well as government physicians concluded that MacDonald would not survive for the trial, but the Justice Department refused to drop the charges.
In emotional testimony before the House months later, Justin Walder, MacDonald's attorney, described his final hours. "I am told by the family that while on his deathbed, and under treatment, chemotherapy, and lost his voice, one of the last acts he committed, about an hour before his actual death, he wrote a note and said, "'has Justin spoken to you yet, has he heard anything?'"
Walder then continued, "He wrote it on a piece of paper. So that not only did they hurt him in the manner in which they conducted the investigation, they hurt him in lacking the good sense and humanity, if you will, of letting the man die in peace, who I sincerely believe was innocent of the charges."
During other House and Senate hearings throughout 1982, FBI Director Webster and Associate Director Mullen testified that there was no targeting during Abscam. Thomas Puccio also wrote that in his autobiography in 1995.
However, the record is clear. In the early part of the investigation, coaching was prevalent. As the investigation moved towards a conclusion, deliberate targeting was going on, including two of the congressmen. In fact, in two of the Abscam trials the verdicts were overturned by the trial judges because of entrapment, but eventually reinstated.
And John Murtha, who turned on two other congressmen during Abscam in order to obtain his own "deal" with the sheiks, would turn on them again in another deal, this time to escape prosecution.
During the congressional hearings, New Jersey prosecutor Robert Weir said that the behavior of those caught on tape was atrocious, but the juries did not see what happened before and after the tapes were rolling. And then there was the MacDonald case. Weir said that, "If the MacDonald case is bad, and I think it is, then I think it created a cancer that spreads to the other cases."
The Senate report had concluded that the MacDonald money was split between Weinberg and Errichetti, but that MacDonald may have wanted something in the future. However, Angelo Errichetti recently told me that MacDonald was the most decent and honorable man he'd ever met.
The indictment itself, which charged that MacDonald conspired to receive and share the $100,000 with Errichetti, was something the government had determined at the time was false. Furthermore, when the indictment was issued it was clear they had determined Weinberg had received some of the money, and that they needed to keep that out of the indictment.
As for the gifts, the Senate determined that Weinberg--the main government witness--had not only received them but committed perjury concerning them. Besides the Errichetti gifts and Katz watches, they determined that Katz had also given Weinberg a video recorder.
Before the House in 1982, William Webster sidestepped the question of gifts, referring to Judge Pratt's ruling before the 20/20 interview. Webster then acted as if he was unaware of the 20/20 report. Before the Senate that same year, Puccio said that whether Weinberg received the gifts or not was a "red herring" issue. In his 1995 autobiography, Puccio wrote that those actions could taint the entire probe but there was never any evidence, and the controversy "quickly died down."
Also before the Senate, and only months after Marie's suicide, the famed attorney James Neal, who was the select committee counsel, got into heated and ugly exchanges with Weinberg over the gifts. I recently contacted most of those involved with the MacDonald case, as well as the tragic situation with Marie Weinberg.
William Webster seemed to remember many things about Abscam, but his memory went blank about Marie Weinberg and Kenneth MacDonald. Philip Heymann, Edward Korman and Charles Renfrew also remembered nothing about them either. Judge Pratt had no memory of burying any memos in the Williams or MacDonald cases, nor of Marie Weinberg.
Francis Mullen claims to have Alzheimer's, and Jo Ann Farrington and W.D. (Douglas) Gow refused comment. I received no return calls from Irvin Nathan, Benjamin Civiletti, John Good, Gerald McDowell, Reid Weingarten or Eric Holder. William Hendricks passed away in 2001, and John Keeney in 2011. Thomas Puccio died earlier this year.
As for Eric Holder, his pivotal involvement in Abscam marks yet another dubious chapter in his career. There is no statute of limitations for the events that had occurred. If he is to continue on as Attorney General after the recent reelection of Barack Obama, he should address his involvement in the Abscam investigation.
The Abscam scandal has also now returned to Hollywood. After attempts to make a movie failed in 1982 after the death of Marie Weinberg, there are efforts in motion to complete yet another film.
After first learning of the MacDonald cover-up in 2010, I decided that December to ask Weinberg about it, as well as the other material I had recently obtained. To blunt the impact of what I knew might be a bad reaction from him, I sent him a gift package for his birthday in early December. Before calling him, I learned of a movie project about Abscam that Singer was involved in.
After an initial call discussing the other Abscam related material, the call ended before we discussed either Kenneth MacDonald or the movie. He returned the call in early January, and just like he had done with Marie Weinberg and others 30 years earlier, assaulted me with obscenities and continually threatened me.
Sony Columbia still intended to continue with the project, which I apparently stopped in early 2011. After writing other investigative stories while dealing with chronic kidney problems, and at the same time researching the MacDonald cover-up as well the death of Marie Weinberg, news of a potential Abscam movie by some of the same people involved from a year earlier was reported again last March.
This time, they approached the reclusive Oracle heiress Megan Ellison for funding, and David O. Russell to direct. After contacting representatives for both, they still intend to go forward. The plot is bogus, but at the center is Mel Weinberg as the roguish hero, just as it was in 1982. This would be the biggest fraud and potential scandal in the history of Hollywood, with none other than Weinberg at its center.
Mel Weinberg, John Murtha and the cast of characters of Abscam are now forever entrenched in my memory. But when I think of the twists and turns in this story, and the suffering that Marie Weinberg and Kenneth MacDonald went through, it gives me pause. The thought of what happened to them now gives me the strength and the will to expose the true story of the horror that Abscam became.