A defense attorney in the municipal bond bid-rigging trial in New York on Thursday interrogated a government witness about his memory, and even his drinking.
John Siffert of Lankler Siffert & Wohl LLP, the lead attorney for Steven Goldberg, continued his cross-examination from the previous day of former broker Adrian Scott-Jones.
Scott-Jones, of Morriston, Fla., pleaded guilty in September 2010 to participating in two separate fraud conspiracies, and agreed to participate with the U.S. Justice Department. Scott-Jones worked, among other places, as a consultant to Tradition (North America), and EuroBrokers.
The government accuses Goldberg, Dominick Carollo and Peter Grimm, all former executives of General Electric Co. affiliates, of having conspired with brokerages to fix bids for municipal bond contracts between August 1999 and September 2006, by allowing providers “last looks” at other bids, and receiving kickbacks through back-end swap transactions. The three executives were indicted in July 2010 on 12 counts — five for Goldberg, four for Grimm and three for Carollo — including wire fraud and conspiracy.
Siffert, continuing the defense teams’ strategy of questioning the memory and statement consistency of cooperating witnesses, focused on a 1999 dinner Scott-Jones told prosecutors he had with Goldberg in a Japanese restaurant in midtown Manhattan.
The purpose of the dinner, Scott-Jones told prosecutors, was to finalize swap agreements.
“I remember the dinner because of the fine sake,” Scott-Jones, who spoke in a British accent and vernacular, told the court about the Japanese rice wine.
“The conversation wasn’t especially good, but the sake was exceptionally good. I do specifically remember the alcohol content,” he said matter-of-factly, triggering laughter throughout the courtroom.
Scott-Jones told the court he enrolled in alcohol treatment and has not had a drink since January 2010.
Then Siffert, his voice rising, said: “Isn’t it true that you were out drinking that afternoon and the meeting with Steven Goldberg never happened?”
“I do remember having lunch with Goldberg,” Scott-Jones replied.
Siffert played a tape of a Scott-Jones associate telling Goldberg by phone that he couldn’t make the meeting.
Goldberg said: “Is he ... uh, drinking?”
The associate replied: “Uh, yes.”
“Unbelievable. I thought he wanted to work,” was Goldberg’s taped response.
The exchange prompted Judge Harold Baer of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan to remark after one motion, “I’m getting lost in the sake.”
Siffert attempted throughout the morning to elicit only yes-or-no answers from Scott-Jones, frequently to no avail.
“The municipal bond market, nine out of 10 times, is not a blind yes or no,” Scott-Jones said.
The witness, answering Siffert’s questions about taped conversations, asked several times to see the tape in reference on the big video screen. “Are you saying that unless you see a tape, your memory is cloudy?” Siffert said.
Looking to portray his client as a competitive banker and to counter accusations that he manipulated bids, Siffert zeroed in on a Massachusetts Water Resources Authority deal in 2000 in which GE subsidiary Trinity Plus won the bid.
“The approval of Trinity Plus was good for the issuer, wasn’t it?” Siffert said. “If Trinity Plus won, that would help Massachusetts Water diversify its investment portfolio. All its eggs would not be in one basket.”
The trial, late in its second week at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Courthouse in Foley Square, is expected to last at least one month.