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Tussle Over Tape In Tomasso Case
Two Gaps Spark Defense Allegations Of Government Tampering
By JON LENDER 
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 18-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 tampered with.

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.

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