In a move that emphasizes Richard T. Silberman's links with a reputed mobster, federal prosecutors announced Monday that they plan to bring the San Diego financier and Chris Petti to trial together in September on money-laundering charges.
Saying they are aiming to save time and money, prosecutors asked the federal judge presiding over the complex case to approve of trying Silberman and Petti together.
The request marks a shift in strategy from Silberman's first trial, in which he was tried alone. That trial ended June 29 with his conviction on one count, a violation of federal currency laws in an alleged scheme to launder drug profits. A mistrial was declared on five other counts after the jury reported it was deadlocked, heavily in favor of conviction.
If U.S. District Judge J. Lawrence Irving grants the prosecutors' request, the new strategy may eliminate their ability to use Silberman's alleged confession against him at the trial. It will also bring together in the same courtroom two noted defense lawyers, James J. Brosnahan for Silberman and Oscar Goodman for Petti.
Irving is due to take up the request at a hearing July 23. The trial is set for Sept. 25.
Silberman, a one-time top aide to former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., is accused of directing a scheme to launder $300,000 an undercover FBI agent allegedly characterized as the proceeds of Colombian drug trafficking.
When he was arrested in April, 1989, in a San Diego hotel room, Silberman had already made two money-laundering deals and was negotiating a third with the undercover agent, who had posed as a front man for Colombian drug lords, prosecutors contend.
At his first trial, Silberman, who is married to San Diego County Supervisor Susan Golding, was convicted of structuring a transaction to avoid the paper work that federal law requires for any transaction of more than $10,000. He could draw up to 10 years in prison, although new federal sentencing guidelines suggest that a term of one to five years is more probable.
Petti, 63, of San Diego, who has been linked to organized crime in Chicago and Las Vegas, introduced Silberman to the undercover agent, according to testimony at the first trial.
Indicted with Silberman on the same money-laundering charges, Petti was a regular spectator at Silberman's first trial--after he was released May 11 from a federal prison. He was released after serving about two-thirds of an 18-month sentence imposed for violating probation.
Petti had been convicted in 1984 of bookmaking--in a case that covered the 1980-81 football season--and had been on five years' probation when he was indicted.
At the first trial, while they were putting on their main case, prosecutors presented Silberman's alleged confession to the jury. The FBI contends that Silberman confessed to the laundering scheme immediately upon arrest and implicated others in wrongdoing.
Because the legal rule guaranteeing the right to cross-examination clashes with the right not to testify, Silberman and Petti could not be tried together once prosecutors announced they intended to use the alleged confession. Last February, Irving ordered separate trials.
In legal papers filed Monday, however, Assistant U.S. Atty. Charles F. Gorder Jr. disclosed that prosecutors would not use the confession to make their case at the second trial. Gorder also said the move would save Irving's time and taxpayer money, since the charges against Petti and Silberman are the same.
"One trial is better than two," Gorder said in a telephone call late Monday. He declined to comment on any other strategy concerns.
The rules would still allow prosecutors to cross-examine Silberman about the confession if Silberman chose to testify. He did testify--for two days--at the first trial.
Silberman's lead defense attorney, Brosnahan, who impressed jurors in the first case with his oratory, could not be reached for comment. One of his lawyers, Diane Amann, declined to comment.
Goodman could not be reached Monday for comment.
A Las Vegas lawyer, Goodman represented former San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock at Hedgecock's second trial, after the first trial ended in mistrial. Hedgecock's second trial resulted in a 13-count conspiracy and perjury conviction.
In addition to Petti, prosecutors said Monday that they sought to include a third man in the September trial. Darryl Nakatsuka, 43, of Los Angeles is a security guard accused of being a courier in the case.
Silberman also implicated Nakatsuka in the alleged confession, according to the FBI.