By Editorial Staff
Published July 7, 2000
By Bill Thompson, Staff Writer, Ocala Star Banner
OCALA — An Orlando doctor and his former real estate consultant pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges they schemed to extort millions of dollars from Marion County taxpayers.
James Scott Pendergraft, owner of the Ocala Women’s Center at 108 N. Pine Ave., denied allegations he intentionally lied about threats to his clinic, at which abortions are performed, in order to settle a federal lawsuit he brought against city and county officials.
Pendergraft’s former business consultant and co-defendant, Michael Spielvogel, also asserted his innocence.
A federal grand jury indicted Pendergraft and Spielvogel on June 13, charging them with one count each of conspiracy to commit extortion, lying under oath and mail fraud. Spielvogel faces one additional count each of offering false testimony and making false statements to FBI investigators.
U.S. Magistrate Gary R. Jones accepted the pleas and ordered the defendants immediately released on their own recognizance, citing their clean criminal records and their strong community ties in Orlando. However, Jones did make them to surrender their passports and to turn over any weapons they might own.
Jones set their trial for Sept. 5.
If convicted as charged, Pendergraft faces up to 30 years in prison and fines of $750,000, the judge said. Spielvogel could receive 40 years behind bars and fines of $1.25 million, if convicted as charged.
The accusations stem from the defendants’ actions during a lawsuit Pendergraft filed in December 1998. He sued Marion County, the City of Ocala, police Chief Morrey Deen, Marion County Sheriff Ed Dean, former sheriff Ken Ergle and a dozen anti-abortion activists, alleging officials failed to provide adequate protection for his clinic.
A judge dismissed the lawsuit in December.
Federal prosecutors maintain that as the lawsuit proceeded between February 1999 and April 1999 Spielvogel concocted stories about Marion County Commissioner Larry Cretul saying Pendergraft’s clinic would be fire bombed or that Spielvogel’s wife, who worked there, would be harmed.
Pendergraft’s lawyer in the civil action, Roy Lucas, subsequently relayed Cretul’s alleged threats to Virgil “Bill” Wright III, a lawyer representing Marion County, and other attorneys involved in the lawsuit, according to the indictment.
Pendergraft and Spielvogel also submitted sworn statements, described by prosecutors as “false, fraudulent and libelous,” attesting to Cretul’s remarks, the indictment says.
Federal prosecutors contend Pendergraft, Spielvogel and Lucas met with Wright in March 1999 to settle the lawsuit. If not done so to their satisfaction, the plaintiffs said they would repeat Cretul’s supposed threats in court and “bankrupt” Marion County by asking a jury to award them more than $100 million, investigators say.
Thursday, Pendergraft entered his plea about two hours after he proclaimed his innocence at a news conference held in his office at his Ocala clinic, which he opened in July 1998.
“The allegations contained in the indictment filed against me are untrue,’‘ said Pendergraft, 43. “I am not a criminal. I’m completely innocent of all charges.”
Pendergraft said the criminal charges partly could be attributed to the anti-abortion sentiment of county commissioners, Cretul in particular. Pendergraft, who operates four other clinics in Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale and Tampa, said officials here have been the most hostile to him.
Pendergraft’s lawyer in the criminal case, Larry Colleton of Orlando, promised to mount a vigorous defense, saying his client believed Spielvogel was being truthful about Cretul’s threats.
Colleton added that it wasn’t likely the community’s anti-abortion feelings would dissipate in the near future.
Pendergraft’s co-counsel, Jacob Rose of West Palm Beach, said Pendergraft’s defense team most likely would request a change of venue because the “inflammatory conduct” already demonstrated meant Pendergraft probably wouldn’t get a fair trial in Ocala.
Spielvogel, 53, and his lawyer, Daniel Brodersen of Orlando, both declined to comment on the case following the hearing.
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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.
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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
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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.
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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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