By Editorial Staff
Published January 11, 2001
By Rick Cundiff, Staff Writer, Ocala Star Banner
OCALA — The federal extortion trial of Michael Spielvogel and Dr. James Scott Pendergraft IV turned into a lawyers’ duel Wednesday.
Local attorney Virgil “Bill” Wright III spent the day on the witness stand, nearly all of it under cross-examination by Pendergraft attorney Jacob Rose.
The atmosphere between Wright and Rose grew tense with Rose’s first question.
“You were influenced by your opposition to abortion, correct?” Rose asked.
Despite Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Devereaux’s objection that the question wasn’t relevant, Wright eventually answered that he opposes abortion and, in response to a later question, that he is a member of the First Baptist Church of Ocala. County Commission Chairman Larry Cretul, the first prosecution witness, also is a member of that church.
Pendergraft owns the Ocala Women’s Center and four other abortion clinics in the state.
Rose and Wright clashed repeatedly in their views about the case.
Pendergraft and Spielvogel were indicted last June, in a five-count indictment alleging they conspired to extort millions of dollars from Marion County government by making false and fraudulent statements in a civil lawsuit filed by Pendergraft in December 1998.
Senior U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges dismissed the lawsuit year later, after Pendergraft and attorney Roy Lucas failed to pursue it. Hodges also is presiding over the criminal trial.
The indictment alleges Pendergraft and Spielvogel lied by saying Cretul threatened Spielvogel and the clinic.
Wright testified Tuesday that Lucas sent him copies of sworn affidavits by Spielvogel and Pendergraft saying Cretul threatened Spielvogel in a telephone conversation. Spielvogel’s affidavit said Cretul threatened the clinic, Spielvogel and Spielvogel’s wife, a clinic employee.
What Spielvogel and Pendergraft didn’t know was that Cretul had gone to the FBI after he received a call from Spielvogel months earlier and that the FBI was secretly taping conversations between Cretul and either of the two men.
Cretul did place a call to Spielvogel on Jan. 29, 1998, about 12 hours after an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Ala., was firebombed.
According to Spielvogel’s affidavit, Cretul said, “what happened in Alabama would be nothing compared to what would happen in Ocala.”
Pendergraft’s affidavit said he believed Spielvogel because he was in the room when Spielvogel repeated the alleged threats from Cretul as Cretul made them.
After talking with FBI Special Agent Pamela Piersanti about Cretul’s involvement, Wright agreed to a meeting in his office, which the FBI secretly videotaped.
On Tuesday, Devereaux played a videotape of that March 22, 1999, meeting between Wright, Spielvogel, Pendergraft and Lucas. On that tape, Lucas spoke of solving the firebombings of an Ocala abortion clinic in 1989.
“That’s the real challenge of the case, is to solve the firebombings and bankrupt the county,” Lucas said.
Rose aggressively quizzed Wright throughout the day Wednesday, asking his motives in scheduling the meeting.
“They (Pendergraft, Spielvogel and Lucas) lied to get me into what you call a settlement conference and what I’d call an opportunity to further their criminal enterprise,” Wright said.
Rose asked Wright if he wasn’t lying, too, by having the meeting with no intention of negotiating a settlement. Rose raised the issue of whether it might have been better for the county to file for a dismissal of the case instead of scheduling the meeting. Wright acknowledged it might have been, in an ordinary case.
“Isn’t that a conflict of interest?” Rose nearly shouted at one point.
Wright responded that he was cooperating with the FBI, not negotiating anything.
Much of the interaction between Rose and Wright was repetitive, to the extent that shortly after 4 p.m., Hodges asked Rose what point he was trying to make.
“Mr. Rose, I’ve been listening to about 3 hours of cross-examination, which, to me, is pointless,” Hodges said outside the presence of the jury. “If this line continues on the way it’s been proceeding this afternoon, I’m going to suggest you find another line of questioning, and if you are unable to do that, I’m going to suggest that you terminate your cross-examination.”
Rose finished his questioning, Wright left the witness stand and Hodges recessed the trial for the day.
A juror who was injured in a fall during the court’s lunch break Tuesday returned to the courtroom Wednesday morning. The woman had fallen outside a downtown restaurant, striking her head. She was treated at a local hospital Tuesday afternoon.
Also Wednesday, several local ministers, all of whom oppose abortion, filed a motion to quash subpoenas from Pendergraft and Spielvogel’s lawyers. The group includes the Rev. Edward Johnson, pastor at First Baptist. Hodges had not ruled on the motion by Wednesday afternoon.
The trial is scheduled to resume this morning.
Forerunner - Home » Florida's Murder Industry »
Your comments are welcome!
Who is the dreaded beast of Revelation?
Now at last, a plausible candidate for this personification of evil incarnate has been identified (or re-identified). Ken Gentry’s insightful analysis of scripture and history is likely to revolutionize your understanding of the book of Revelation — and even more importantly — amplify and energize your entire Christian worldview!
Historical footage and other graphics are used to illustrate the lecture Dr. Gentry presented at the 1999 Ligonier Conference in Orlando, Florida. It is followed by a one-hour question and answer session addressing the key concerns and objections typically raised in response to his position. This presentation also features an introduction that touches on not only the confusion and controversy surrounding this issue — but just why it may well be one of the most significant issues facing the Church today.
Ideal for group meetings, personal Bible study — for anyone who wants to understand the historical context of John’s famous letter “… to the seven churches which are in Asia.” (Revelation 1:4)
Running Time: 145 minutes
$17.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
“Here I stand … I can do no other!”
With these immortal words, an unknown German monk sparked a spiritual revolution that changed the world.
The dramatic classic film of Martin Luther’s life was released in theaters worldwide in the 1950s and was nominated for two Oscars. A magnificent depiction of Luther and the forces at work in the surrounding society that resulted in his historic reform efforts, this film traces Luther’s life from a guilt-burdened monk to his eventual break with the Roman Catholic Church.
Running time: 105 minutes
Special offer: Order 5 or more for $5 each.
Watch a clip from Martin Luther.
$9.95 — 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.)
That Swiss Hermit Strikes Again!
Dr. Schaeffer, who was one of the most influential Christian thinkers in the twentieth century, shows that secular humanism has displaced the Judeo-Christian consensus that once defined our nation’s moral boundaries. Law, education, and medicine have all been reshaped for the worse as a consequence. America’s dominant worldview changed, Schaeffer charges, when Christians weren’t looking.
Schaeffer lists two reasons for evangelical indifference: a false concept of spirituality and fear. He calls on believers to stand against the tyranny and moral chaos that come when humanism reigns-and warns that believers may, at some point, be forced to make the hard choice between obeying God or Caesar. A Christian Manifesto is a thought-provoking and bracing Christian analysis of American culture and the obligation Christians have to engage the culture with the claims of Christ.
$19.95 — 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.)