By Editorial Staff
Published January 30, 2001
By Rick Cundiff, Staff Writer, Ocala Star Banner
OCALA — Testimony concluded Monday in the federal extortion trial of Dr. James Scott Pendergraft IV, who is the owner of Ocala Women’s Center, and his associate Michael Spielvogel.
For most of the day, Pendergraft continued to testify in his own defense.
Attorneys are scheduled to make closing arguments today, starting with Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Devereaux at 9 a.m. Senior U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges has allowed him three hours for closing and granted 1 hours each for Pendergraft’s and Spielvogel’s lawyers.
They are charged with attempting to extort millions of dollars from Marion County government through a lawsuit Pendergraft filed in December 1998.
FBI Special Agent Pamela Piersanti, earlier a prosecution witness, was recalled by the defense as the last witness.
Pendergraft attorney Larry Colleton asked Piersanti whether she had tried to investigate Roy Lucas, Pendergraft’s attorney in the lawsuit, who disappeared before Pendergraft and Spielvogel were indicted.
Piersanti acknowledged she made no serious effort to find Lucas until after the trial began and defense attorneys said they could not find him.
The FBI began investigating Spielvogel and Pendergraft in October 1997, after Spielvogel called Marion County Commissioner Larry Cretul. In that telephone conversation, Cretul has testified, Spielvogel said the county could avoid problems — like “violent protests and firebombings” — at the Pine Avenue clinic by buying the property.
The County Commission had sent Pendergraft a letter asking him not to open the Ocala clinic, which provides abortions.
Cretul, at the FBI’s direction, taped subsequent telephone conversations with Pendergraft and with Spielvogel.
In January 1998, after a call from Cretul, Spielvogel called the FBI and reported Cretul had threatened him, his wife and Pendergraft’s clinic.
Spielvogel later repeated those allegations in a written affidavit, which Lucas used in trying to obtain a financial settlement from the county during a meeting with attorney Virgil “Bill” Wright III, who represented the county in the lawsuit. Pendergraft filed a second affidavit supporting Spielvogel.
Spielvogel testified last week that after he called the FBI, he drove to Pendergraft’s office in Orlando, where he faked a call in which Cretul allegedly made threats to him as Pendergraft walked into the room. That faked call formed the basis for Pendergraft’s affidavit.
Spielvogel admitted only after the trial had started that he staged the call to mislead Pendergraft.
Pendergraft said he had forgiven Spielvogel for the deception.
“With my growing up and believing in God, number one, you’re supposed to forgive,” he said. “Michael was a pawn in the situation where the government was coming after me, to keep me out of Ocala, no matter what.”
Pendergraft was on the witness stand in his own defense for most of the day Monday. Under intense questioning from Devereaux, Pendergraft repeated for a third day that he depended on Lucas’ advice in filing the lawsuit, which Hodges dismissed in December 1999.
Cretul also made comments that Pendergraft regarded as “threats to the stability of (his) business” throughout the course of four telephone calls between Cretul and Pendergraft, the doctor testified.
Cretul, who was speaking to Pendergraft under Piersanti’s direction at the time, kept bringing the conversation back to the possibility of violence, Pendergraft said. Cretul also referred to a statement by Pendergraft that a $1 million payment would keep him out of the county for life as a “payoff,” or “extortion,” descriptions with which Pendergraft repeatedly took issue with.
“He continued to hammer out the fact that I was a criminal, that the county’s paying me off not to come to Marion County,” Pendergraft said. “He’s telling me that I’m a criminal.”
On audiotapes of the telephone conversations, Pendergraft repeatedly rejects Cretul’s references to extortion or payoffs.
Pendergraft also took issue with the original letter from the county commissioners, which Cretul signed as commission chairman. That letter made it appear that the government of Marion County opposed the opening of an abortion clinic in the county, Pendergraft said. That emboldened protesters outside the clinic once it opened, he added.
“When that goes out to the community, that gives the protesters sort of a carte blanche to do what they want to do,” he said, “by knowing the government’s on their side.”
Under questioning from Devereaux, Pendergraft acknowledged that anti-abortion comments he thought Cretul made at the October, 1997, board meeting approving the letter were made instead by Commissioner Randy Harris.
But Pendergraft said he believed Cretul was behind an organized effort to keep him out of Ocala.
“Larry Cretul did not want me to come to Ocala, and he didn’t want me to bring my practice here,” Pendergraft said.
Pendergraft’s bodyguard, Andre Stewart, returned to the courtroom Monday for the first time in several days, after testimony ended, and just as the jury was leaving for the day.
Stewart had been present for most of the trial. But he disappeared abruptly last week, after Devereaux asked Pendergraft if he had asked Stewart to leave a meeting held between himself, Spielvogel and Lucas just before the settlement conference with Wright.
Moments before Stewart entered the courtroom Monday, Pendergraft defense attorney Larry Colleton had asked Piersanti if she wanted to serve him with a subpoena. Piersanti responded that the question of whether to subpoena him wasn’t her decision to make.
Pendergraft is charged in three counts, Spielvogel in five. If convicted, Pendergraft faces up to 30 years in prison and $750,000 in fines, while Spielvogel could face up to 40 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines.
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Foundations in Biblical Eschatology
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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?
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Exposing The Occult Roots of Abortion
This presentation looks at the spiritual roots of abortion and exposes the myths surrounding child killing. Little known historical facts about abortion and how they relate to modern feminism are presented logically and accurately. Has been effective in converting many to a pro-life position.
Massacre of Innocence goes where no pro-life presentation has gone before in “tearing the lid off abortion” to reveal the spiritual realities we must battle if we will bring an end to this crime. The presentation is absorbing, fast-paced, informative and incredibly devastating to any attempt to justify abortion.
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“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
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“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.
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Is there a connection between pagan religion and the abortion industry?
This powerful presentation traces the biblical roots of child sacrifice and then delves into the social, political and cultural fall-out that this sin against God and crime against humanity has produced in our beleaguered society.
Conceived as a sequel and update to the 1988 classic, The Massacre of Innocence, the new title, The Abortion Matrix, is entirely fitting. It not only references abortion’s specific target – the sacred matrix where human beings are formed in the womb in the very image of God, but it also implies the existence of a conspiracy, a matrix of seemingly disparate forces that are driving this holocaust.
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