Jurors Hear Tape of Alleged Bribe : Sting: FBI agent testifies that the defendants, former legislative aides charged as part of the Capitol operation, agreed to payments totaling $5,000.
In a series of secretly recorded sessions played in federal court Tuesday, an undercover FBI agent found himself negotiating the price he would have to pay to move a special-interest bill through the California Legislature.
Wearing stereophonic headsets, the jurors in the political corruption trial of two former legislative aides listened to a 1986 tape recording of the agent and the defendants agreeing to set the cost of passing the bill at $5,000--a $2,500 campaign contribution to start and another $2,500 when the bill was approved in the Assembly.
But the final cost for moving the bill twice through the two legislative houses proved far higher in 1986 and again in 1988--in excess of $50,000, according to court documents in the trial of Tyrone Netters and Darryl Freeman.
Some of the payments were made in $100 bills, others sent to campaign committees, and still others disguised through third parties, according to testimony.
As the case moved into the second week, FBI Agent John E. Brennan continued to describe how, with only glib patter and a ready checkbook, he was able to nurse a bill through the Legislature that benefited a single company, a dummy firm set up by the federal government as part of an elaborate sting operation.
In June, 1986, with time running out for introducing a bill, Freeman, a former legislative aide who had become a lobbyist, placed a telephone call for help to Netters, then an aide to Assemblywoman Gwen Moore (D-Los Angeles), according to testimony.
Brennan had told Freeman that he was prepared to pay $5,000 for the passage of the bill, which would have allowed the FBI dummy company to borrow $3 million or more at low interest to build a shrimp processing plant near Sacramento.
On the tape played in court, Freeman, while on the phone to Netters, is heard turning to the FBI agent and relaying Netters’ requests for campaign contributions. Netters, who was in his Capitol office at the time, was not recorded.
“He’s asking for three ($3,000), three to start and two ($2,000) when they get it (the bill) out,” Freeman tells Brennan on the tape.
“How about two and two,” Brennan responded. “How’s that?”
Freeman countered, “Hey, how about 25 ($2,500) and 25?”
When Brennan delivered the second of two $2,500 checks to Netters for Moore’s campaign committee, the FBI agent joked with the legislative aide: “You want to renegotiate?”
Netters shot back, “Yeah, how about five? Five now and five later.”
In his testimony, Brennan said he repeatedly tried to make it clear to Netters, Freeman and others that the money was an explicit payment for official acts.
But Brennan testified that whenever he did so, the defendants became highly agitated and uncomfortable--at one point expressing fear that they might be taken in by an “Abscam.” The reference was to an FBI sting operation that came to light in 1980 and led to the conviction of a U. S. senator, six House members and others.
When Brennan apologized for his heavy-handed ways, Netters is heard on one tape advising the undercover operative that “some things are best never said.”
Brennan testified that there was what he called “a protocol” in the Capitol, in which money could be exchanged for favors as long as it was never stated.
In particular, Freeman explained in yet another secretly recorded conversation that Netters was worried about talking about money on a Capitol phone because “they (apparently politicians) tap phones.”
Brennan again testified that if he had not paid $1,000 for two tickets to a campaign fund-raiser for Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), the special-interest bill would have never been introduced. He said that was because the bill required a number of rule waivers and the so-called “hijacking” of a bill--removing the contents of a bill and replacing it with the language of another.
At first, Brennan said he tried to make the payment in cash. But the money, delivered to Karen Sonoda, an aide to Brown, was returned and a cashier’s check issued instead.
Throughout the taped evidence presented in the case, there are references to lawmakers and legislative aides who wanted no part of the special-interest bill or who refused to take any money for their support.
Assemblywoman Moore herself appeared to know nothing about the campaign contributions arranged by Freeman and Netters, according to Brennan, who tried to talk to her about the reasons for his payments.
Netters, 36, has been charged with nine counts of using his official position as an aide to Moore for financial gain. Freeman, 44, was acting as a lobbyist at the time of the alleged crimes and faces charges of conspiracy and aiding an extortion.