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Over Tape In Tomasso Case
Gaps Spark Defense Allegations Of Government Tampering
Courant Staff Writer
May 18, 2005
In a hearing that may presage the tenor of the coming state corruption
trial, prosecutors and defense lawyers wrangled stubbornly for 80 minutes
Tuesday over two gaps in a surveillance videotape.
With neither side willing to give the other first crack at analyzing the
tape, it was up to U.S. District Judge Peter C. Dorsey to fashion a
solution that satisfied lawyers for the government and New Britain
businessman William A. Tomasso.
The tape was confiscated by the FBI Sept. 3 in a dramatic roadside
confrontation with private detectives hired on Tomasso's behalf to shadow
a key witness in the corruption case against him and two other
individuals. Tomasso's lawyers want the tape tested to determine whether
the gaps were the product of government tampering.
"The first thing you should check is Rose Mary Woods' presence,"
Dorsey joked at one point, referring to the secretary to President Nixon
who claimed she inadvertently created the famous 18½-minute gap in a
crucial Watergate tape. "But I think she's deceased now."
Agents seized the tape, along with cameras, surveillance logs, notebooks
and other materials, from Tomasso's private investigators as they were
setting up a video stakeout of key government witness Lawrence E. Alibozek
and his wife, Leah.
Prosecutors have said the Tomasso detectives were using "harassing,
intimidating and illegal" tactics to silence Alibozek, who was deputy
chief of staff for John G. Rowland, the now jailed ex-governor, and is
likely to be the government's key witness this fall.
But Tomasso lawyers say FBI agents have used threats to intimidate them
from doing the investigative field work necessary for a comprehensive
legal defense, and they contend their investigators were "roughed
up" by the agents during the September confrontation.
William Tomasso, two Tomasso companies, former Rowland co-chief of staff
Peter N. Ellef, Ellef's son and an Ellef family business have all been
charged with running a racketeering operation out of the governor's
office. Tomasso is accused of channeling thousands of dollars in bribes to
the Ellefs in exchange for millions in state contracts.
Alibozek pleaded guilty to a corruption-related charge in March 2003 and
has been cooperating with federal prosecutors ever since.
Tomasso's lawyers, John R. Fornaciari and John J. Vecchione, expressed
frustration in court Tuesday with the government's refusal to hand over
the three-hour surveillance tape even after federal prosecutors concluded
that it shows no evidence of harassment of the Alibozeks.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Jongbloed said the government's
resistance is a result of the defense lawyers' telling the court they
suspect FBI agents may have altered the tape after they confiscated it.
"If somebody at the FBI tampered with that tape, then there have to
be administrative inquiries," Jongbloed said.
He stressed that there is no evidence or indication that the tape had been
Still, the prosecutor said that the tape - sealed in an evidence bag by
both sides' mutual consent - needs to be analyzed in the FBI's laboratory
in Quantico, Va. Only then, he said, will the government agree for it to
be tested by the defense team's consultant, Virginia-based Bruce E.
Koenig, an expert who also has worked under contract for the FBI.
Dorsey fashioned a detailed order in which both sides would look at the
tape, and the defense would be given a copy, before the FBI performs its
initial test on the original. Then the defense would get its turn to
analyze the original.
Fornaciari said he had wanted the defense expert to be present when the
FBI tested it, but said Dorsey had inserted "enough protections"
for him to forgo any appeal.
Both Tomasso lawyers said after the proceeding that the tape - from a
camera that was mounted in the back of a private detective's SUV - briefly
shows an FBI car driving up.
The longer of the two gaps probably lasts a matter of minutes, they said,
although they did not know how long.
Vecchione said he did not know whether the longer gap appears before or
after the FBI car is seen.
"I know at some point there's a car with an FBI agent. I don't know
if that's before or after the gap."
The tapes do not show some things that the private detectives reported,
Vecchione and Fornaciari said. "We just need to know if anything
happened" with the tape, Vecchione said. If there was any alteration
it could cast doubt on the government's evidence and its overall case.