By Editorial Staff
Published January 4, 2001
By Rick Cundiff, Staff Writer, Ocala Star Banner
OCALA — Michael Spielvogel told Marion County Commissioner Larry Cretul in 1997 that Dr. James Scott Pendergraft IV wouldn’t open an abortion clinic in Ocala if the county paid Spielvogel and Pendergraft $500,000 for the property, Cretul testified Wednesday.
As a result of that conversation, the FBI began an investigation of Pendergraft and Spielvogel nearly a year before the Ocala Women’s Center opened and more than a year before Pendergraft filed suit against Marion County and the city of Ocala.
Cretul was the first witness called to testify in Pendergraft and Spielvogel’s extortion trial in federal court. He spent about four hours on the witness stand Wednesday and was expected to return for more testimony when the trial continues this morning.
Spielvogel called Cretul after county commissioners voted, in October 1997, to send a one-paragraph letter to Pendergraft urging him to reconsider his plans to open a clinic in Ocala. Because Cretul was commission chairman, he signed the letter.
Pendergraft and Spielvogel were indicted in federal court last June, in a five-count indictment that alleges the two men conspired to extort millions of dollars from Marion County government by making false and fraudulent statements in a lawsuit Pendergraft filed in December 1998.
Senior U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges dismissed that lawsuit a year later because Pendergraft and attorney Roy Lucas failed to pursue it. Hodges is presiding over the criminal trial.
The indictment alleges Pendergraft and Spielvogel lied in the lawsuit by saying Cretul threatened Spielvogel and the clinic. The indictment also alleges that Pendergraft and Spielvogel, through attorney Roy Lucas, threatened to bankrupt the county by asking for a $100 million judgment.
While the indictment only refers to acts allegedly committed between While the indictment only refers to acts allegedly committed between February 1999 and March 2000, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Devereaux said the conspiracy between Pendergraft and Spielvogel started with the 1997 telephone call.
Within two days of Spielvogel’s initial phone call, Cretul took the matter to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, which in turn referred him to the local office of the FBI. Special Agent Pamela Piersanti asked Cretul to help the agency investigate.
Under Piersanti’s direction, Cretul taped every subsequent conversation he had with Spielvogel, without Spielvogel’s knowledge. Spielvogel’s lawyer, Daniel Brodersen, objected to the introduction of tapes made before February 1999, but Hodges allowed prosecutors to play them.
On the first tape, from a call made in November 1997, Cretul asked Spielvogel what can be done about Pendergraft’s plan to open an Ocala facility.
“Buy the building from me,” Spielvogel responded. “I can make a nice profit.”
Later in the conversation, Spielvogel said Pendergraft will not put a clinic anywhere in Marion County if the price is right.
“I can represent to you, we will not even come into the county,” Spielvogel said.
Soon afterward, he made a specific dollar suggestion to Cretul.
“We’re in there for about $300,000,” Spielvogel said. “If I got half a million, I could say (to Pendergraft) ‘You keep a hundred (thousand), and I keep a hundred (thousand).’ “
On the same tape, Spielvogel denied what he was asking for was extortion.
“It’s not a matter of pay or don’t pay,” he said. “Just buy the building. It’s not a matter of payoff or extortion.”
On a tape made Jan. 29, 1998, Spielvogel told Cretul that Pendergraft was “livid” in response to letters and petitions from Marion County churches asking him not to open in Ocala.
On that tape, Spielvogel suggested Cretul meet with Ocala church leaders and members and have the churches raise the money to buy out Pendergraft.
“Why don’t you call ’em and say, ‘Listen, there’s a solution’?” Spielvogel said.
Spielvogel raised the issue of violence during the conversation, which took place hours after a Birmingham, Ala., clinic was firebombed. That bombing killed an off-duty police officer and critically wounded a nurse.
“If anybody threatens me, I’ll tell you what, they’re going to get it back,” Spielvogel said. “He (Pendergraft) is not going to go away. He’s not going to be scared away. If there’s any bombs or murders or any of that bullshit stuff, the feds are going to be on top of it.”
Cretul didn’t threaten Spielvogel during any of the taped conversations played Wednesday and didn’t mention the Birmingham incident during the January 1998 call.
Half an hour after that call ended, Spielvogel called the Tampa FBI office and said Cretul had threatened him, warned him that the Ocala clinic would be firebombed and implied that Spielvogel’s wife would not be safe in Ocala.
On the Jan. 29, 1998, tape, only Spielvogel mentioned Mary Spielvogel, saying she was an administrator for Pendergraft who would be training people in Ocala.
The FBI eventually concluded that Spielvogel’s complaint was unfounded. An affidavit he filed in the Pendergraft civil suit saying Cretul threatened him is the basis for two counts against him and one count against Pendergraft.
Pendergraft’s attorneys, Jacob Rose and Michael Colleton, argued Pendergraft was not aware of Spielvogel’s actions and that the only conspiracy was one by the government to frame Pendergraft because of his line of work.
“It all centers around just one single event in terms of the conspiracy that is charged,” Rose said in his opening statement. “Dr. Pendergraft is being persecuted for what he does as a doctor.”
Rose also sought to disassociate Pendergraft from Spielvogel, saying Spielvogel worked as an independent contractor, not as an employee of Pendergraft.
“Michael Spielvogel was not involved in any way whatsoever in any plan to come to Ocala,” Rose said.
At the start of the day, Hodges admonished Pendergraft for being a few minutes late to court.
“This is two mornings in a row that you’ve been a few minutes late, sir,” Hodges said. “I think you need to pay some attention to your situation.” Hodges threatened to have Pendergraft taken into custody if he’s late a third time.
The judge also warned Pendergraft’s attorneys about a large balloon flying from the roof of the Ocala Women’s Center, less than a thousand feet from the courthouse. The balloon carries large signs reading, “Stop attacking abortion providers. Support Dr. Pendergraft.”
Hodges called for the balloon to be taken down.
“How could that be interpreted as anything other than an influence to the jury?” he said. “There are limits to free speech when it comes to the trial of a criminal case. This borders on obstruction of justice.”
Rose told the court before 10 a.m. that the balloon would be taken down immediately, but it still rested on the clinic roof when the trial recessed for the day at 4:45 p.m.
Both Pendergraft and Spielvogel are charged with conspiracy to commit extortion, lying under oath and mail fraud. Spielvogel faces additional charges of offering false testimony and making false statements to FBI investigators.
If convicted, Pendergraft faces up to 30 years in prison and $750,000 in fines, while Spielvogel could face up to 40 years and $1.25 million in fines.
The trial was scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. today.
Forerunner - Home » Florida's Murder Industry »
Your comments are welcome!
Foundations in Biblical Eschatology
By Jay Rogers, Larry Waugh, Rodney Stortz, Joseph Meiring. High quality paperback, 167 pages.
All Christians believe that their great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will one day return. Although we cannot know the exact time of His return, what exactly did Jesus mean when he spoke of the signs of His coming (Mat. 24)? How are we to interpret the prophecies in Isaiah regarding the time when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:19)? Should we expect a time of great tribulation and apostasy or revival and reformation before the Lord returns? Is the devil bound now, and are the saints reigning with Christ? Did you know that there are four hermeneutical approaches to the book of Daniel and Revelation?
These and many more questions are dealt with by four authors as they present the four views on the millennium. Each view is then critiqued by the other three authors.
$12.95 — 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.)
With “preaching to the lost” being such a basic foundation of Christianity, why do many in the church seem to be apathetic on this issue of preaching in highways and byways of towns and cities?
Is it biblical to stand in the public places of the world and proclaim the gospel, regardless if people want to hear it or not?
Does the Bible really call church pastors, leaders and evangelists to proclaim the gospel in the public square as part of obedience to the Great Commission, or is public preaching something that is outdated and not applicable for our day and age?
These any many other questions are answered in this documentary.
$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.)
“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.
$14.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)