Friday, September 09, 2011

Voyles Takes On Government's Star Witness In Plowman Case

Lincoln Plowman's high profile criminal defense attorney began his cross-examination of the government's star witness this morning, Mark Aysta, a special agent who posed as an undercover out-of-state strip club owner to lure Plowman into committing the crimes the government says he committed in accepting a $5,000 cash payment from the special agent. The government first completed its examination of Aysta's last communications with Plowman before the December 22, 2009 meeting at a hotel room at the Conrad Hilton where the cash exchange took place.

The government's case indicates that Aysta had four meetings in person with Plowman during the months of August and September. Thereafter, the agent confirmed that Plowman did virtually nothing but talk over the phone to him during the months of October and November. It wasn't until December that the agent finally chose a potential site on the city's westside near the airport at a vacant office building and obtained the covenants for the property to reach the decision that was the property with which he wanted to move forward on the project. Plowman had put him in touch with zoning attorney Cameron Clark by that point. Clark explained the zoning process to him and told him that he would need to sign a retainer agreement and pay a retainer fee of $20,000 before he would do any work on his behalf. The agent neither signed a retainer agreement or paid a retainer fee to Clark. Plowman obtained the covenants for the property and forwarded them to Aysta via e-mail attachment. After viewing the covenants, the agent told Plowman he believed they posed no problem in locating a strip club at the site. Plowman, however, mentioned to the agent that he believed the covenants may allow the neighboring tenants in the industrial park development to object. The agent wanted to wait for a legal opinion from the attorney on that point, a legal opinion which was ultimately never obtained.

Plowman had also figured out that the business was located in Councilor Bob Cochrum's district, not the district of Robert Lutz, which Plowman had originally thought based on earlier tapes played to the jury. Plowman offered to arrange a luncheon meeting between Aysta and Cochrum and indicated that he had already spoken to Cochrum about it. "I can hook you up with a, um, a face to face with the councilor over there, because I already talked to him about it," Plowman said. He then went on to describe Cochrum to Aysta without mentioning his name and how he should be handled:

Plowman: "He's an older man, retired. He's been retired as a engineer from a factory but he also retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the Guard or Reserve or something. He doesn't look like it now. You know, he's 350, 350 pounds, no hair. One foot in the grave, but he has an open mind."
Agent: Yeah, Um, is, is he--I mean, what's it going to take to talk to him?

Plowman: Take him out to lunch with me and you together.

Agent: Yeah. and that's it?

Plowman: And--well, that, no, I mean, I don't know, but I'm just saying that's a first step.

Agent: Yeah.

Plowman: You know, and say hey, you know, we're not, you know, I'm--bring, bring, bring those pictures that you showed me of that other place. And show him your ideas. Um, tell him hey, you know, this is not some place where I'm going to be running dope and hookers out the back door. You know, this is going to be a five star club. There, there is no--and there is no five star clubs here--

Agent: Yeah.

Plowman: --in Indianapolis. You know, this is where, uh, a man and wife can come at the bottom and eat at a nice restaurant.

Agent: Yep.

Plowman: And then if some--,someone wants to go upstairs for, you know, a drink and see some ladies and, you know, and say hey, you know, it's not--you can't be completely naked here.

Agent: Yeah.

Plowman:  --so you know, they're going to be wearing, um, you know, shorts and, and some sort of opaque covering over their, their nipples. I mean, they all wear G strings in, in Indiana, but that's against the law, but no one ever enforces it, you know.

Agent: Yeah.

Plowman:  um, but you know, just--and here's the deal. You know, you and me can, for lack of a better term, shuck and jive, but he's, you know hes's probably in his late, late 60's. You know, he's so, he's one of these guys that, you know, demands re- respect. Now you'll look at him and say, man, what a slob. You know, but his, he's a sharp guy. He may not look like it, but you know, you treat him, you know, yes, sir, blah, blah, blah. I know you met me, whether you want to or not, I'm not trying to--I know him. I'm trying to tell you.

Agent: Yeah, yeah.

Plowman: So--

Agent: I can play the game.

Plowman: Yeah, yeah, I'm with you.
Aysta and FBI agents originally planned to arrange a hotel meeting with Plowman earlier in December when he was in town to meet with Plowman where the money exchange would take place; however, Plowman had scheduling problems that made the meeting impossible. The agent used the excuse of his son becoming sick and hospitalized as a reason for leaving town abruptly so the meeting could be re-scheduled at a date later in the month before Christmas. In a telephone conversation, Plowman shared with the agent his concern that he might get bounced from his leadership position within the Republican caucus on the council. "I may lose my majority leadership position because I made some enemies over this smoking bill," Plowman told the agent. Aysta said he was sorry to hear that. Plowman responded, "Oh, well, it's all paid $200, I don't know, paid like $1200, but, I'm not worried about it, you know?" Plowman said he would "lose sleep over it a couple of days if I don't get it, but after that, it won't bother me at all." Plowman also told him that Cochrum was likely going to lose his council president position at the caucus meeting. "He's probably going to lose that too. It was just time for a change, I guess."

Before the government concluded its direct examination of Aysta, it recapped how much money Aysta had spent on meals and entertainment, including the cash during the time they spent together at O'Charley's, Nickey Blaine's, Slippery Noodle, Ruth's Chris, Dancer's Show Club, PTs, Rock Bottom and St. Elmo's. It added up to $1,050 spent on Plowman, which included the $200 the agent slipped Plowman during the first evening out together at Nickey Blaine's after Plowman had shared with him his personal financial struggles on a policeman's salary.

As soon as Voyles stepped to the podium to question Aysta, he took direct aim at his role as an undercover agent. He had the officer restate how he had worked for the FBI in this role for 18 years before leaving the San Diego Police Department. "Your role is to ingratiate your target?" Voyles asked of the agent. "You lie about who you are and what you do to ingratiate your target? You lie about lots of things, don't you? You disparage lawyers to get your point across? The agent explained with each role he has a purpose and he creates a cover that allows him to carry out that purpose.

Voyles challenged the agent's reliance on a paid informant, Josh Rogers, to introduce the agent to Plowman. The agent said he wasn't told going in whether the informant was paid, but the government's prosecutor, Richard Pilger, interjected that the government stipulates that it paid Rogers $3,000 to aid in the sting operation. Voyles indicated that Rogers was in trouble with the law and was cooperating with the FBI in order to get leniency in his own criminal case. Again, the agent said he is not told that information by the other agents who put the operation together. He is simply introduced to the informant and told how he will use him in his meeting with Plowman. Aysta acknowledged spending several hours with Rogers prior to his initial meeting between him and Plowman at O'Charley's on August 11, 2009.

Voyles questioned the agent about what he knew about Plowman before beginning the operation. He said he knew he was a high-ranking police officer and city councilor. He said the FBI told him that Plowman was known to have a friendly relationship with adult clubs, but he said he did not know until Plowman told him that he was actually paid as a consultant by PT's in Lawrence. The agent insisted he did not know that Plowman had worked as a vice officer or performed undercover work prior to the operation.

Next, Voyles questioned him about his own part-time work when he worked as a San Diego police officer. You understand that police officers aren't paid well and often work part-time jobs to supplement their income Voyles asked the agent. "You worked a part-time job in the past?" Voyles asked him. Aysta explained that he had worked part-time for a corporation that employed city police officers that was under contract with the city of San Diego to use them for off-duty work. Aysta said he understood the relationship here in Indianapolis was much different, and that the type of part-time work Plowman was doing was not like that being done by other police officers. Voyles hammered the point that most Indianapolis police officers work part-time job, and there's nothing unusual about that.

Voyles repeatedly recounted recorded conversations with Plowman where he indicated everything he did had to be legal and that he wasn't going to jail, he wouldn't take bribes or do anything that wasn't legitimate. The agent conceded Plowman made those statements frequently, but he also noted contrary statements he made and that he believed Plowman was just throwing those comments out there for plausible deniability in the event his actions ever came back to haunt him.

The agent and Voyles verbally sparred over whether Plowman's payment was for work done as a consultant versus payment of a bribe. He emphasized the number of meetings the two had, the number of hours of time Plowman spent "acting as a sounding board" and providing advice to him on how to proceed. Voyles challenged Aysta for directing him towards a different course of action than what Plowman had advised, which Voyles characterized as advice for him to simply acquire an existing adult establishment. Aysta countered that the only two existing clubs he mentioned being for sale was the Red Garter, which Plowman said was worth about $8 million but the owners were asking $40 million, or the Classy Chassis where the owner had recently died, but it appeared another family member was going to take over the establishment.

Voyles relied on statements Plowman had made to Aysta that the part-time work he did for PTs was reported on a 1099 form. "You don't report money paid to you on a 1099 form to the IRS if it's payment of a bribe?" Voyles asked of Aysta. The agent responded that Plowman never told him that he had to issue him a 1099 before he gave him $200 cash or the $5,000 cash he handed to him at the Conrad Hilton hotel room on December 22, 2009. The agent became visibly angry with Voyles at one point and said he had never witnessed a legitimate police officer in all his years in law enforcement extort money from someone to peddle influence as Plowman had done.

Voyles also pointed out to Aysta various comments Plowman had made prior to accepting the $5,000 payment that he could not guarantee any possible result for him. Voyles pointed out that Plowman made it clear to him from the beginning that he was going to hire a realtor and an attorney to help him in establishing an adult club in Indianapolis. He drew comments Plowman made to the agent to support his contention that he was acting as a legitimate paid consultant to him and not taking payment as a bribe. The agent fired back that most of the work Plowman did was on city time and not his personal time. The agent charged that Plowman used the Department's law enforcement database to run a background check on him, which the FBI had created for him for this undercover role, but when challenged by Voyles, Aysta said he did not have proof that Plowman had used the Department's resources to conduct the criminal background check.

Voyle's makes some strong arguments for his client, but the government is sure to zing him on him with the alias Plowman used. Why would Plowman find it necessary to use the "Steve Rogers" alias if the work he was doing was above board?

UPDATE: As the trial continued this afternoon, the major question jurors face began to crystalize. The government contends that the $5,000 cash payment made to Plowman in December was for future work influencing the zoning variance that would be needed for the approval of a strip club. Plowman's lawyer, Jim Voyles, is arguing to the jury that it was compensation for many hours of time he had already put into the project following his first meeting with the undercover agent on August 11, 2009. Voyles was about as effective as you could get in rattling the government's star witness, but it might not be enough. The agent is a very effective and believable witness and the hours of recorded conversations and video tape of the cash exchange in the hotel room poses a difficult challenge for Voyles.

During re-direct of the government's star witness, the lead prosecutor, Richard Pilger, very effectively countered many of Voyle's arguments to undermine the government's case. On the issue of Plowman indicating he asks for 1099s to be issued for his outside work, the agent testified that corrupt businesses often use 1099s to disguise bribes as legitimate payments for services rendered. He pointed out that in the conversation he had with Plowman he had not indicated that it was a requirement that he issue him a 1099; rather, he indicated either way would be acceptable to him.

The agent also made the point on re-direct that when he asked Plowman at their December 22 meeting what he owed him for his prior work, Plowman responded that a simple "thank you" would suffice. The government bolstered its position that when he handed the $5,000 cash payment to Plowman that it would cover his so-called "cut" for the future influence peddling he would do during the zoning variance process. The agent explained that he did not cut a $1,000 check separately for the campaign contribution to Plowman's campaign to complete the so-called "5 and 1" deal with Plowman because the government did not want to compromise the investigation by divulging any bank account numbers. The agent explained that the money Plowman had told him he needed for wining and dining would be paid later upon Plowman presenting him with receipts for reimbursement of those expenses. The agent made clear that he would not advance money to him for that purpose in his testimony today, which he contended is supported by the videotaped evidence the government introduced of the meeting in the hotel room.

The government also pounced on the question I raised earlier about the use of the "Steve Rogers" alias. Aysta insisted that a police officer would never use an alias for legitimate off-duty police work unless he had something to hide. Voyles suggested that it was not unusual because Plowman occasionally worked in the past as an undercover officer and used an alias for that work. The government appears to be preparing to build a case that Plowman had no reason for continuing to have an alias for undercover work at the time of his arrest by introducing into evidence this afternoon information offered by IMPD's human resources person, Capt. Patricia Holman, showing his assignments at various times since his employment as a law enforcement officer beginning in 1988 and continuing until his retirement from IMPD in March, 2010, a little more than two months following the sting operation's conclusion.

Pilger had Aysta recount how Plowman planned to use board hopping after the zoning variance case was filed to improve its chances of approval. Plowman had explained how the zoning attorney would draft and present the zoning variance. He could help identify which of the three zoning boards had people over whom he could exert the most influence to help assure its approval. If the case was assigned to a less friendly board, Plowman would have the zoning attorney find an excuse to get it transferred to another more favorable zoning board. The government made clear through its star witness that there was absolutely no evidence that the zoning attorney, Cameron Clark, intended to do anything illegal to facilitate the deal. Indeed, the agent never executed the retainer agreement or paid him the $20,000 retainer fee he had requested.

Before concluding his testimony, Aysta described Plowman as "ego driven" and as "someone who liked power and control." He said he believed that someone with Plowman's savvy and experience as a law enforcement officer was too smart to say out loud that he was accepting bribes for services rendered; he would look for a cover to disguise the true purposes of the money that was exchanging hands. He also contrasted the off-duty work he did as a police officer for San Diego's police department. He said he disclosed his off-duty work and had written approval to do that work unlike Plowman. He said the $200 he gave Plowman at the end of their first day together at Nicky Blaine's was what he felt was needed for Plowman to do a criminal background check. He said Plowman, in his role as a police officer, could access the FBI's criminal database that would tell him the information he needed to know. He furnished him a copy of his driver's license and his social security number following that meeting. He could not say for certain that Plowman had used the government database to perform the background search, but he assumed he had. He said Plowman could have completed the background check in no more than ten minutes. Voyles rhetorically asked the agent, "So Plowman was being paid $2,000 an hour for his time?"

The government called one other witness this afternoon. Ralph Balber testified about his very limited role as a realtor in the matter. Balber explained that he was a partner and owner of Halakar Real Estate. He testified that he furnished the booklet of available real estate listings to Plowman after Brad Klopfenstein contacted him by telephone. He said he knew Klopfenstein from another unrelated real estate matter he had worked on with him a year earlier. Balber said he only spent four minutes inputting the information into an online listing database by entering search parameters and hitting the print result on the real estate listings that matched his search. Someone else in his office actually bound the listings into a booklet and brought it to him. He said he delivered the booklet to Plowman at the City-County Building where he met Plowman outside so he wouldn't have to find a parking space and go into IMPD headquarters to hand it to him. The fact that Klopfenstein was involved in obtaining information for the deal is extremely damaging to Plowman's defense given that Plowman boasted of appointing him to the Board of Zoning Appeals and exercising control over his actions.

Balber acknowledged that he had met with Plowman in person on one other occasion at a restaurant on Delaware Street for breakfast. He said Plowman told him that he was interested in identifying properties for someone else looking to open up a strip club in Indianapolis. He understood that it would be a high-end club with two stories and a nice restaurant. Because he was not working directly for the money person, Balber said he didn't give the work a high priority and described the booklet he had prepared as being pretty useless as far as he was concerned. He said he recalled Plowman asking him for the covenants for the property in the industrial park near the airport. Balber said he tasked a staff person in his office to retrieve the information and that he forwarded it on to Brad Klopfenstein via e-mail without even reading what was in them. The government emphasized in its presentation of the evidence that there was no evidence Balber had or intended to do anything illegal. Again, the government was trying to downplay the work Plowman had done prior to the December 22 meeting, while Voyles was trying to bolster the work he had done to make the case that the $5,000 cash payment was for prior services rendered.

1 comment:

Concerned Taxpayer said...

I think it's very interesting the way Plowman has to use such terrible descriptors of everyone.
I wonder just what that means.