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seized in corruption case has Nixon-esque gaps
May 17 2005
NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- A surveillance video seized by the FBI last fall
contains minutes-long gaps, attorneys said Tuesday, adding intrigue to a
case against former members of Gov. John G. Rowland's administration that
already includes buried gold and trips to Las Vegas.
Defense attorneys suspect FBI agents may have illegally erased part of the
tape and asked a judge to let them test it.
"The first thing you should check for is Rose Mary Woods'
presence," U.S. District Judge Peter Dorsey said Tuesday, referring
to President Nixon's secretary, who said she inadvertently erased part of
a crucial Watergate tape, creating an 181/2-minute gap.
FBI agents seized the tape last September from private investigators who,
at the behest of a state contractor charged with corruption, was
conducting surveillance on the government's key witness.
Attorneys for the contractor, William Tomasso, say FBI agents roughed up
their investigators and repeatedly dropped their camera equipment. Defense
attorneys say they don't know why that is not on the videotape.
"It's not a case where it wasn't running or it had been turned
off," attorney John J. Vecchione said.
The missing video segments are the latest puzzling details to surface in
the corruption case that has gripped Connecticut for two years.
Federal agents allegedly discovered buried gold at one state official's
home and state impeachment investigators never figured out who flew with
Rowland to Las Vegas. Those free trips ultimately led to his December
guilty plea on a corruption charge.
FBI agents seized Tomasso's videotape as part of their investigation into
whether his private detectives were harassing Rowland's former deputy
chief of staff, Lawrence Alibozek, who is cooperating in the case that
sent Rowland to prison for a year.
Tomasso and Rowland's former co-chief of staff, Peter Ellef, are accused
of contract steering in the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Jongbloed said there's no evidence of
harassment on the tape, but he said the government has not returned it to
Tomasso because of the allegation that it was altered.
"If somebody at the FBI tampered with that tape, then there have to
be administrative inquiries," Jongbloed said.
He said he wanted the tape analyzed at the FBI laboratory in Virginia,
where outside observers are forbidden. Defense attorneys argued that it
should be analyzed by a private firm, but Jongbloed said that would make
it harder for prosecutors to use the tape as evidence if they determine
someone doctored it.
Dorsey ordered the FBI lab to make a copy of the tape for Tomasso's expert
and said both the FBI and the outside expert can analyze it.
Defense attorneys have said prosecutors overreached when they charged
Tomasso and Ellef with racketeering. If the tape turns out to have been
doctored, defense attorneys said they could argue that it raises questions
about other government evidence.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press