By Editorial Staff
Published January 4, 2001
Jurors Heard Recorded Conversations As Testimony Began In The Federal Extortion-conspiracy Case
By Pedro Ruz Gutierrez of The Sentinel Staff
OCALA — An Orlando doctor and his associate tried to wrest a payoff for as much as $500,000 from a county commissioner three years ago to avert the opening of a controversial abortion clinic in Marion County, a federal prosecutor told trial jurors Wednesday.
“Cut a check, or we’ll shake you down,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Devereaux in outlining the extortion-conspiracy case against Dr. James Pendergraft and business associate Michael Spielvogel.
As testimony in the case began Wednesday, jurors heard the first of several tape-recorded conversations. The prosecutor likened the case against Pendergraft, 43, and Spielvogel, 54, to motorists staging a crash and defrauding insurers.
“It’s not any different than two people faking a car accident, and then we’ll just sue our respective car-insurance companies,” Devereaux said.
Not so, said attorneys for Pendergraft and Spielvogel, both Orlando area residents.
“You will see that Dr. Pendergraft is being persecuted for what he does,” Jacob Rose, one of Pendergraft’s two attorneys, told the jury. “Pendergraft is not guilty of any wrongdoing, and those who are guilty are those who conspired to get him.”
Rose said FBI agents, prosecutors and local leaders started trying to incriminate Pendergraft after a 1997 conversation between County Chairman Larry Cretul and Spielvogel, the real-estate broker who acted as site manager for Pendergraft’s clinic in Ocala.
Rose also told jurors to expect “exaggerations” from prosecutors. He said amounts of money discussed during the phone calls came up “in the context of negotiations” and concerned Pendergraft’s future loss of income at the proposed Ocala clinic.
However, Cretul testified that Spielvogel threatened controversy and implied extortion when the broker telephoned to respond to a 1997 letter that Cretul had written to Pendergraft asking him to reconsider opening his clinic.
“Mr. Spielvogel told me all of this could be avoided if we bought this building for $500,000,” Cretul said of the call, which was not recorded.
Cretul’s notes from that conversation, however, were admitted as evidence. “Wants to be bought off,” read Cretul’s scribbled notes.
Several weeks later, Cretul contacted the FBI, which spawned a three-year investigation that culminated last summer in an indictment against Pendergraft and Spielvogel.
“You need to buy the building from me, and I’ve got to make a nice profit,” Spielvogel could be heard in a subsequent taped conversation. In another recording, Spielvogel says, “It’s not a payoff or extortion.”
In yet another phone call, when Cretul would not commit to any deal, Spielvogel suggested the county chairman arrange a collection from protesting church leaders and parishioners to come up with the money.
Pendergraft and Spielvogel are accused of conspiracy to defraud, interfering with commerce by threatening extortion, and mail fraud. Spielvogel also is charged with lying to FBI agents and filing a false 1999 affidavit stating Cretul had made threats that the new clinic would be firebombed. Pendergraft filed his own affidavit supporting Spielvogel’s account.
Tapes from 1997 and 1998 that were played Wednesday did not include a video recording which supposedly shows Pendergraft, Spielvogel, their former civil-trial lawyer and a Marion County attorney discussing a settlement of up to $100 million for damages in a separate civil suit.
Pendergraft’s 1998 suit includes affidavits by him and Spielvogel, which Devereaux says were falsely submitted.
Devereaux, who lowered his voice when quoting Pendergraft and Spielvogel, said the two, using a lawyer, schemed to try to “bankrupt” Marion County when they met with a county attorney in 1999.
“Not try. We will,” Devereaux quoted the doctor as saying. “We’ll build a statue . . . that says Dr. Pendergraft brought freedom to Marion County.”
Devereaux told the 14 jurors they would have a unique opportunity to assess the tones of voice in the cassettes. “It’s better than any cop show or anything else,” he said.
Driven by greed, the associates threatened to create a climate of protests and controversy that would overwhelm Ocala if county officials did not go along with plans to either establish the clinic or buy out the property, prosecutors said.
Before opening statements got under way, Devereaux complained to Judge W. Terrell Hodges about a large balloon and banner outside Pendergraft’s Ocala Women’s Center, which is near the federal courthouse on a main thoroughfare.
The messages, including dozens of national and local abortion-rights signatories, read in part, “Stop attacking abortion providers. Dr. Pendergraft is innocent.”
“If this is an attempt to influence the jury, it has very serious consequences,” Terrell said before ordering the defense to remove the objects. “How can that be interpreted, other than an attempt to influence the jury?”
Supporters of Pendergraft suggested the judge was infringing on their First Amendment rights.
Forerunner - Home » Florida's Murder Industry »
Your comments are welcome!
“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
Ronald Reagan became convinced of this as a result of watching The Silent Scream – a movie he considered so powerful and convicting that he screened it at the White House. More recently, it was by catching just a glimpse of what this film reveals that Planned Parenthood director and abortion advocate Abby Johnson turned and became a strong advocate for the pre-born.
The modern technology of real-time ultrasound now reveals the actual responses of a 12-week old fetus to being aborted. As the unborn child attempts to escape the abortionist’s suction curette, her motions can be seen to become desperately agitated and her heart rate doubles. Her mouth opens – as if to scream – but no sound can come out. Her scream doesn’t have to remain silent, however … not if you will become her voice. This newly re-mastered version features eight language tracks and two bonus videos.
“…a high technology “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” arousing public opinion just as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 antislavery novel ignited the abolitionist movement.” – Sen. Gordon Humphrey, Time Magazine
Languages: English, Spanish, French, South Korean, Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese
Running Time: 28 minutes
$17.95 — 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.)
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.)
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.)
“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.)