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Jury Hears Taped Pitch To Make Deal

By Editorial Staff
Published January 5, 2001

“For $1 Million You Get Me Off Your Back,” Dr. James Pendergraft Said To A Top Marion County Official.

By Pedro Ruz Gutierrez of The Sentinel Staff

OCALA — Nearly three years ago, Dr. James Pendergraft telephoned the chairman of the Marion County Commission and offered to relocate his proposed abortion clinic.

But at a price.

For $500,000, the Orlando abortion physician promised to stay away from Ocala for three years. For $750,000 he would vanish for five years. But for $1 million he would pledge never to come back. He repeated the proposition three times.

“I can tell you, this is no extortion. It’s a business deal,” Pendergraft said during a 1998 phone call played for jurors Thursday in the doctor’s federal trial on extortion conspiracy and other charges. “No doubt about it, you’ll never hear from me again.”

To Pendergraft, the suggested fees represented the cost of the $195,000 clinic building on Pine Street, his investment in the property and the loss of future income there.

“It’s not the building you’re getting rid of. For $1 million you get me off your back,” the doctor said.

The conversation was one of several Pendergraft and Orlando real-estate adviser Michael Spielvogel had with County Commission Chairman Larry Cretul between October 1997 and April 1998 after the chairman sent Pendergraft a letter asking him to reconsider plans for his Ocala clinic. Cretul called in the FBI, which recorded a number of calls and launched an investigation.

Pendergraft, 43, and Spielvogel, 54, are charged with conspiracy, attempted extortion and mail fraud. Prosecutors say that during a March 1999 meeting with a county attorney, taped by the FBI, Pendergraft and Spielvogel said they would seek $100 million in damages unless the county settled a lawsuit over problems with hiring off-duty law-enforcement officers to guard the clinic.

Spielvogel faces additional charges of filing a false document and lying to the FBI about threats supposedly made as the clinic was about to open in 1998. Spielvogel alleged that Cretul said it was a matter of when, not if, the clinic would be firebombed. Pendergraft filed an affidavit supporting Spielvogel in 1999.

Both men contend they did nothing wrong. If convicted, prison sentences could total 30 years for Pendergraft, 40 years for Spielvogel.

Cretul, the U.S. government’s main witness, took the stand for about seven hours Thursday. But part of the time was spent listening to Pendergraft talk on tape about how much money he would lose if he didn’t open up in Ocala.

In a March 1998 call, Pendergraft said he was filling a “void” by coming to Ocala, where the last abortion clinic was firebombed in 1989, and he could make at least $1 million a year in the new facility.

He also tried to reassure Cretul that he would minimize publicity and not draw attention to the deal, which he said could be “written down in a lawyer’s contract” to make it “the least public as possible.”

In a second conversation in April 1998, Cretul inquired about the method of payment. “Did you have something in mind? A check? All at one time? A brown paper bag?”

“No. That doesn’t look good,” said Pendergraft before starting to laugh. “I have my own reputation to keep up and that’s not doing dirty work.”

Pendergraft suggested there was mounting pressure to either establish the clinic or give up the project because of growing opposition from Ocala church leaders

Under questioning by defense lawyers, Cretul discussed his opposition to abortion.

“I am pro-life with exceptions such as incest, rape and dangers to the mother,” he told Dan Brodersen, a former assistant U.S. attorney serving as Spielvogel’s lawyer.

The county chairman also admitted lying under the direction of an FBI agent when he canceled a face-to-face meeting with Spielvogel.

The chairman, a Navy veteran and homebuilder by profession, testified he saw nothing wrong in having the county commission write a letter to Pendergraft asking that he reconsider opening up in Ocala.

“It was the appropriate thing to ask that Dr. Pendergraft reconsider,” Cretul said under questioning by Jacob Rose, a Pendergraft attorney. At the time, Pendergraft had received about 20 negative letters from church leaders and other anti-abortion activists.

One of the pastors writing to Pendergraft in 1997 was the Rev. Ed Johnson of Ocala’s First Baptist Church, which Cretul attends. The chairman said he was not aware of a letter Johnson wrote Pendergraft, but he did see anti-clinic literature from other groups.

Some of those complaints arrived at the County Commission, which discussed the proposed clinic during a meeting in October 1997. At the urging of a citizen who spoke up, Cretul testified, the commission voted 5-0 to draft and send the letter.

Much of the testimony until now has centered on what Spielvogel and Cretul discussed in their initial, unrecorded conversation in 1997, during which both allege threats were made. Cretul testified Wednesday that it was Spielvogel who made inflammatory remarks.

The chairman’s handwritten notes of that call were questioned Thursday by Brodersen, who asked why had he not jotted down the threats.

“I couldn’t write as fast as Michael was talking,” Cretul said.


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Freedom: The Model of Christian Liberty (DVD)

“Give me liberty or give me death!”

Patrick Henry’s famous declaration not only helped launch the War for Independence, it also perfectly summarized the mindset that gave birth to, and sustained, the unprecedented experiment in Christian liberty that was America.

The freedom our Founders envisioned was not freedom from suffering, want, or hard work. Nor was it freedom to indulge every appetite or whim without restraint—that would merely be servitude to a different master. No, the Founders’ passion was to live free before God, unfettered by the chains of autocracy, shackles that slowly but inexorably bind men when the governments they fashion fail to recognize and uphold freedom’s singular, foundational truth: that all men are created in the image of God, and are thereby co-equally endowed with the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

This presentation is a similar call, not to one but many. By reintroducing the principles of freedom that gave birth to America, it is our prayer that Jesus, the true and only ruler over the nations, will once again be our acknowledged Sovereign, that we may again know and exult in the great truth that “where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17).

Welcome to the Second American Revolution!

This DVD features “Liberty: The Model of Christian Liberty” along with “Dawn’s Early Light: A Brief History of America’s Christian Foundations.” Bonus features include a humorous but instructive collection of campaign ads and Eric Holmberg’s controversial YouTube challenge concerning Mitt Romney’s campaign for president.

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The Silent Scream (DVD) Eight Languages

“When the lives of the unborn are snuffed out, they often feel pain, pain that is long and agonizing.” – President Ronald Reagan to National Religious Broadcasters Convention, January 1981

Ronald Reagan became convinced of this as a result of watching The Silent Scream – a movie he considered so powerful and convicting that he screened it at the White House. More recently, it was by catching just a glimpse of what this film reveals that Planned Parenthood director and abortion advocate Abby Johnson turned and became a strong advocate for the pre-born.

The modern technology of real-time ultrasound now reveals the actual responses of a 12-week old fetus to being aborted. As the unborn child attempts to escape the abortionist’s suction curette, her motions can be seen to become desperately agitated and her heart rate doubles. Her mouth opens – as if to scream – but no sound can come out. Her scream doesn’t have to remain silent, however … not if you will become her voice. This newly re-mastered version features eight language tracks and two bonus videos.

“…a high technology “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” arousing public opinion just as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 antislavery novel ignited the abolitionist movement.” – Sen. Gordon Humphrey, Time Magazine

Languages: English, Spanish, French, South Korean, Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese

Running Time: 28 minutes

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God's Law and SocietyGod's Law and Society (DVD)

Download the Free Study Guide!

God’s Law and Society powerfully presents a comprehensive worldview based upon the ethical system found in the Law of God.

Speakers include: R.J. Rushdoony, George Grant, Howard Phillips, R.C. Sproul Jr., Ken Gentry, Gary DeMar, Jay Grimstead, Steven Schlissel, Andrew Sandlin, Eric Holmberg, and more!

Sixteen Christian leaders and scholars answer some of the most common questions and misconceptions related to this volatile issue:

1. Are we under Law or under Grace?
2. Does the Old Testament Law apply today?
3. Can we legislate morality?
4. What are the biblical foundations of government?
5. Was America founded as a Christian nation?
6. What about the separation of Church and State?
7. Is neutrality a myth?
8. What about non-Christians and the Law of God?
9. Would there be “freedom” in a Christian republic?
10. What would a “Christian America” look like?

Perfect for group instruction as well as personal Bible study.

Ten parts, over four hours of instruction!

Running Time: 240 minutes

Watch over 60 on-line video interviews from God’s Law and Society.

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Amazing GraceAmazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism (DVD)

Download the Free Study Guide!

Just what is Calvinism?

Does this teaching make man a deterministic robot and God the author of sin? What about free will? If the church accepts Calvinism, won’t evangelism be stifled, perhaps even extinguished? How can we balance God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility? What are the differences between historic Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism? Why did men like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, Whitefield, Edwards and a host of renowned Protestant evangelists embrace the teaching of predestination and election and deny free will theology?

This is the first video documentary that answers these and other related questions. Hosted by Eric Holmberg, this fascinating three-part, four-hour presentation is detailed enough so as to not gloss over the controversy. At the same time, it is broken up into ten “Sunday-school-sized” sections to make the rich content manageable and accessible for the average viewer.

Running Time: 257 minutes

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Abortion Clinic 911 Calls (DVD)

Exposes the Dangers of Abortion to Women!

These shocking eyewitness accounts expose the dangers of abortion not only to unborn children, but to the health and lives women as well. An antidote to the smokescreens of the liberal media, these short clips show what really happens in and around abortion clinics.

Although the content is emotionally gut-wrenching, these videos have been used in church seminars and small groups to educate Christians on the abortion issue and to lead people toward a pro-life position. Contains 2 hours and 40 minutes of materials that can be shown separately.

Watch these pro-life videos on-line.

“These videos helped change my mind from pro-choice to pro-life. Your videos are what did it for me. I will be walking in next year’s March For Life in San Francisco.” — A. Jackson, California

“I was going to have an abortion until I saw your video. Praise Jesus!”
— M. Drew, YouTube Commenter

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