By Frank Stanfield, Sentinel Correspondent
OCALA — Did an abortion doctor’s adviser agree to become the “fall guy” in a federal case accusing the doctor and the adviser of extortion? Or were both guilty of trying to extract a payoff from Marion County in return for keeping a women’s clinic out of the conservative community?
“Absolutely not,” Dr. James Scott Pendergraft said of the “fall guy” question.
“Are you looking for the truth?” the doctor fired back at Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Devereaux during his second day of testimony in federal court Monday.
Devereaux pulled out the Orlando doctor’s business records and noted that Pendergraft’s consultant, Michael Spielvogel of Orlando, was receiving $2,400 per month for his services until April 1999. That’s when Pendergraft realized that the real estate broker was being questioned by the FBI.
And then payments to Spielvogel shot up to $4,500 per month, according to records.
It was mere coincidence, the doctor said.
Spielvogel had built up additional expenses by that time, and was even owed a brokerage fee for one of the five clinics Pendergraft operates, including two in Orlando, he said.
It’s the Ocala Women’s Center, however, that is the center of the doctor’s trial, in which he and Spielvogel are accused of making false sworn statements and filing a potentially costly lawsuit to try to force County Commission Chairman Larry Crutel to pay them off to leave the area.
Pendergraft didn’t know it, but Crutel was wired for sound by the FBI.
Crutel was trying to trap him with words like “payoff”’ and “extortion,” Pendergraft testified.
Quoting from one transcript of the recordings, he pointed out that the Marion County chairman asked him if he wanted the money “in a brown paper bag.”
Under questioning by his attorney, Larry Colleton, Pendergraft cited parts of the transcript that showed him insisting the proposed sale of the clinic was a “straight business deal.”
Pendergraft testified Friday that when he went to a March 1999 conference with a lawyer for Marion County, he had no idea his then-lawyer Roy Lucas and Spielvogel would be demanding big bucks in damages to settle a pending lawsuit.
Pendergraft has insisted that the legal action was taken to push protesters away from his clinic and to get local government officials to provide off-duty police officers to guard his practice on Pine Street.
Spielvogel has become a fall guy during the trial, saying the doctor did nothing wrong. The real-estate broker even confessed that he pretended to receive a threatening phone call from Crutel so that Pendergraft would decide not to open a clinic in Ocala.
Today, jurors in federal Judge Terrell Hodges’ courtroom will hear closing arguments. Then, they will decide whether Pendergraft and Spielvogel are guilty of conspiring to commit extortion, mail fraud and making false statements. If convicted, each could be sentenced to 30 years in prison.