The FBI Secretly Recorded The Doctor And His Lawyer Threatening To Bankrupt Marion County In A Lawsuit
By Pedro Ruz Gutierrez of The Sentinel Staff
OCALA — Jurors in the attempted extortion trial of an Orlando abortion doctor watched a secretly recorded video on Tuesday showing him and his attorney talk about wrecking the finances of Marion County government with a lawsuit.
“We are going to go for a verdict of over $100 million,” said Roy Lucas, the attorney who filed the 1998 suit seeking police protection for Dr. James Scott Pendergraft’s newly opened abortion clinic. “They better come up with some money or they are going to get burned. We’ll try to bankrupt the county.”
“Not try. We will bankrupt the county,” said Pendergraft, raising his voice toward the end of the 69-minute video recorded by the FBI. “And I promise you that I’ll put a statue of myself that says Dr. Pendergraft brought freedom to Ocala.”
Pendergraft then added: “That will make Cretul shiver in his pants.”
County Chairman Larry Cretul had authored a 1997 letter asking Pendergraft to reconsider opening the Ocala clinic.
Cretul later went to the FBI, which secretly taped phone calls in which the doctor and his real-estate associate Michael Spielvogel offered to stay out of the county for payments ranging from $500,000 to $1 million.
Pendergraft and Spielvogel are accused of conspiring to extort, mail fraud and scheming to defraud. Spielvogel also faces charges of filing a false affidavit and lying to the FBI.
Lucas has not been charged. Prosecutors say Pendergraft and Spielvogel merely used him in their financial scheme.
The 1999 sting operation, facilitated by an attorney who represented Marion County at the time, is considered crucial by assistant U.S. attorneys, who say Pendergraft and Spielvogel lied about supposed threats made by Cretul. Virgil “Bill” Wright, an attorney representing Marion County and Cretul in the 1998 suit, testified on Tuesday that he agreed to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office after the FBI explained Cretul’s role and let him listen to tape recordings.
Taxpayers would have had to pick up the tab for any damage payments arising out of a lawsuit, Wright said.
Pendergraft and his lawyer won a preliminary court order that allowed off-duty police to guard Pendergraft’s clinic, but the complaint seeking damages was later dismissed by District Judge W. Terrell Hodges.
Hodges, who is also presiding at Pendergraft’s criminal trial, suspended testimony after lunch Tuesday after a juror fell outside the courthouse and was hospitalized with head injuries. It was not clear whether she could return.
The accident was the latest of several unusual incidents at the federal building, including two electrical blackouts during playback of the surveillance video and two more Friday. Hodges blamed a circuit breaker.
Defense attorney Jacob Rose fell in the dark on Friday and reinjured a knee. He is walking on crutches this week.