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.
Forerunner - Home » Florida's Murder Industry »
Your comments are welcome!
High Quality Paperback — 200 pages
A Reasonable Response to Christian Postmodernism
Includes a response to the book Christian Jihad by Colonel V. Doner
The title of this book is a misnomer. In reality, I am not trying to get anyone to shut up, but rather to provoke a discussion. This book is a warning about the philosophy of “Christian postmodernism” and the threat that it poses not only to Christian orthodoxy, but to the peace and prosperity our culture as well. The purpose is to equip the reader with some basic principles that can be used to refute their arguments.
Part 1 is a response to some of the recent writings by Frank Schaeffer, the son of the late Francis Schaeffer. This was originally written as a defense against Frank’s attacks on pro-life street activism – a movement that his father helped bring into being through his books, A Christian Manifesto, How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? These works have impacted literally hundreds of thousands of Christian activists.
Part 2 is a response to Colonel Doner and his book, Christian Jihad: Neo-Fundamentalists and the Polarization of America. Doner was one of the key architects of the Christian Right that emerged in the 1980s, who now represents the disillusionment and defection many Christian activists experienced in the 1990s and 2000s. There is still great hope for America to be reformed according to biblical principles. As a new generation is emerging, it is important to recognize the mistakes that Christian activists have made in the past even while holding to a vision for the future.
$14.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
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.
$19.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
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
$4.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
Special Two-Disc Set!
After 40 years of intense study and world-wide ministry, Dr. Francis Schaeffer completed his crowning work of scholarship – to present profound truths in simple film language. Dr. Schaeffer’s brilliant analysis of the past and predictions for current trends have proven so uncannily accurate that this amazing series still feels contemporary almost three decades after its initial release. Ultimately, Schaeffer concludes that man’s only hope is a return to God’s Biblical absolute, the truth revealed in Christ through the Scriptures.
Available for the first time on DVD, this documentary spectacular also includes intimate in-depth conversations with Francis and Edith Schaeffer. With the on-disc study guide, this presentation forms a unique course of comprehensive study. While this series forms an innovative analysis of the past, this outstanding work is more than history. Each episode focuses on a significant era, yet speaks clearly to 21st-century man with answers for modern problems.
$49.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
What is true Revival and Spiritual Awakening?
Discover the answer in this eyewitness account by Dennis Kinlaw, President of Asbury College, Wilmore, Kentucky, who recounts the story of a visitation of the Holy Spirit in 1970. This is the presentation that has continued to spark the flames of Revival in the hearts of people around the world. Contains eyewitness footage from the Revival at Asbury College in 1970 in Wilmore, Kentucky.
Certain to challenge you to greater holiness and a deeper commitment to full-scale revival. Original news and private footage has been included. If you are a student who longs to see a spiritual awakening at your school, you must see this video!
“This simple video does a wonderful job of conveying something of God’s heart and power, Everyone we have ever shown this to has received an immediate impartation of faith for revival and the power of prayer.”
— Bob and Rose Weiner, Weiner Ministries Int’l
Running Time: 40 minutes
$19.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)