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 truth...as 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 you...one 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.