Lawyers deride word of witnesses in bribery trial
LAS VEGAS (AP) – A federal corruption case against two former Clark County commissioners hinges on the believability of a strip club owner and another former commissioner whose damning testimony was “bought” by the government, defense lawyers said Tuesday.
“First thing is, are you dealing with a liar or not?” lawyer Richard Wright said, telling jurors to heed the judge’s instruction to carefully weigh the credibility of former strip club owner Michael Galardi and former commissioners Lance Malone and Erin Kenny.
“In layman’s terms, they’re bought and paid for,” Wright said during closing arguments in the six-week-long trial of former commissioners Mary Kincaid-Chauncey and Dario Herrera.
Galardi and Kenny have each pleaded guilty in the case, and Wright accused them of embellishing their testimony against Kincaid-Chauncey and Herrera in return for “one of the greatest plea bargains in the annals of Las Vegas jurisprudence.”
Malone, who Galardi called his “bag man,” faces trial in August in the case and didn’t testify in the U.S. District Court trial. But Wright said Malone’s “duplicity” was revealed on the same FBI wiretaps a prosecutor called crucial to proving that Galardi bribed public officials.
Wright said there was no proof that Malone, Galardi’s lobbyist, didn’t pocket the wads of $100 bills that Galardi said he paid to influence votes by the seven-member commission. Herrera’s lawyer, Jerry Bernstein made similar allegations a cornerstone of his closing arguments, which are due to continue Wednesday.
“After two months of trial, what do we have? A prosecution built around the most discredited, unreliable witnesses,” Bernstein said.
Using a Powerpoint presentation to highlight inconsistencies in Galardi’s testimony and evidence that he said showed Malone couldn’t be trusted, Bernstein said the government’s plea deal with Galardi amounted to giving the former club owner “a license to lie.”
Galardi, once the head of $40 million-per-year strip club empire, is expected to get no more than five years in prison after pleading guilty in Las Vegas and in a related San Diego federal bribery case. He still gets $100,000 a month for his interest in one of three Las Vegas-area clubs he sold to his father.
Kenny, 45, who testified she received $400,000 from Galardi, has agreed to forfeit $70,000. She is expected to be sentenced to no more than 46 months in prison, but could get probation.
“It’s your call” whether to believe their testimony, Wright told the jury as he pleaded for acquittal for Kincaid-Chauncey, a 67-year-old grandmother, flower shop owner and 24-year political veteran. “No one gets to say she’s guilty but you.”
Kincaid-Chauncey and Herrera, 32, have each pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and extortion through use of their public authority that could get them 45 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
Bernstein said that in at least eight meetings with the FBI and lawyers before cutting his plea deal, Galardi never said he’d personally paid Herrera. But on the stand, Galardi testified he paid Herrera three times – at a restaurant, in an athletic club parking lot, and during a golf outing.
“Is Michael Galardi really credible in testimony about three payments to Dario Herrera?” Bernstein asked.
Herrera has acknowledged receiving a $10,000 campaign check from Galardi. His defense lawyer said Herrera’s admissions on the stand that he received free golf and sexual favors paid for by Galardi did not prove Herrera was on the take.
“The prosecutor asks you to convict Dario Herrera because of sex and comps,” Bernstein said. “The prosecutor calls this the currency of corruption. That’s nonsense.”
The day began with prosecutor Daniel Schiess offering flow charts and audiotapes of telephone wiretaps to underscore evidence he said proved that Kincaid-Chauncey and Herrera sold their commission votes for cash, campaign contributions and sex.
“Dario is your person. Erin is your person. Mary’s your person,” Malone told Galardi in a telephone call recorded by the FBI in August 2002 and replayed for the jury on Tuesday. But Wright noted that Malone also named another commissioner who Galardi testified he didn’t bribe.
Schiess on Monday acknowledged credibility problems with Galardi’s testimony, but called the FBI wiretaps recorded from 1999 to 2003 the real star in proving Herrera and Kincaid-Chauncey defrauded Clark County residents of honest government.
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