Blowing Smoke at Hotel Six

If Betti was Dorothy, and the FBI was the Wizard, who was Toto?

DeGuerin didn't specify who plays Toto in his production, although he also described Betti in canine terms as "eating out of the FBI's hands, unfortunately," and claimed the FBI used her as their "trained puppy dog."

In DeGuerin's Hotel Six version of The Wizard of Oz, Toto seems to be just another aspect of Dorothy/Betti's personality.

The strategies of the separate defense lawyers seemed to employ a set group of options in closing arguments. One: Defend the client by upholding his or her innocence and competence. Two: Defend the client as innocent by virtue of his or her incompetence. Three: Defend the client as innocent because he relied on the advice of a previous attorney who got him into trouble. Or four: Simply trash the government for unethical behavior and the employment of snitches with criminal pasts. Everybody seemed to use option four liberally.

The venerable, graying Robert Bennett mixed the first and third options in pleading with jurors not to allow Councilman John Castillo's "American success story" to end in a tragedy. Castillo, a longtime factotum to Reyes who had succeeded the term-limited councilman in the District 1 seat, had taken the stand in his own defense. He handed prosecutors an unexpected admission that he had accepted cash from Reyes during a conversation at the bar of Ruggles restaurant in January 1996. Castillo justified the money transfers as repayment of an old campaign debt by a suddenly flush Ben Reyes, though he never reported it on his income-tax filings, campaign reports, city financial statement or in an interview with FBI agents the day the sting investigation became public.

To explain the failure of Castillo to return or report his acceptance of an envelope containing $3,000 from Maldonado in the closing days of the sting, Bennett used option three and blasted the councilman's first attorney and former friend Frumencio Reyes. After conceding that Castillo had shown a lapse in judgment by spending $400 from the stash for a contribution to a nonprofit fundraising event, Bennett took out after Frumencio Reyes for his advice to Castillo to stay mum and sit on the money.

"John went to a lawyer who didn't have any sense," Bennett told the jury. "Now we know he had no ethics either."

Bennett was referring to the fact that the lawyer held the remaining $2,600 for Castillo in a safe for nearly two years, but when the money was finally turned over to the federal government, none of the bills matched the original cash, and several bore printing dates more recent than when Castillo gave his lawyer the money. The implication is that Frumencio spent at least some of the money and had to replace it, a breach of client trust that could cost him his legal license. It also hopelessly muddies the waters on the issue of whether Castillo spent more of the FBI money and replaced it before handing the $2,600 to Frumencio.

Peavy attorney Dan Cogdell followed Bennett, and played the hayseed country lawyer, describing Attanasio as a "good-looking, articulate vacuum cleaner salesman," and informant Julio Molineiro as "a big fat rat.... We don't import scum like that man to come in and police us."

Peavy had not testified in his own defense, so it was up to Cogdell to present the former councilman's rationale for accepting $2,500 in the parking lot at Carrabba's from an FBI agent and never returning it, even after the sting became public. He focused on Peavy's taped words when he took the envelope of cash: "That's a contribution, that's what it is."

"That's a telescope, or microscope, into the brain of John Peavy," Cogdell told the jury in a rather confusing metaphor. The lawyer also offered the opinion that if federal agents wanted to test officials with bribes, they should come out and declare they were offering bribes.

"They didn't want justice," said the lawyer, fiddling with the race card. "They wanted a conviction of a black judge." (Peavy is a former state district judge.)

Finally, Cogdell also went with option number three, and cited the advice of previous attorney David Berg to Peavy as the reason he currently faces jail time. Peavy had visited consultant Sue Walden after the sting went public and admitted to her, "I took the money." He produced $2,500 in an envelope and asked her to return it to the FBI. She refused and advised Peavy to get a lawyer.

According to Cogdell, Walden advised Berg to return the money to the government. Contacted afterward, Walden says she advised Berg that the money should be reported as a contribution while there was still time. Berg disagreed, and Peavy followed Berg's advice.

"You don't put him in a cage for following the advice of his lawyer," Cogdell declared, before ending his plea with, "I give John Peavy to you for your deliberations. I want you to give John Peavy back to me at the end of them."

Berg declined comment, citing the privacy of attorney/client discussions.
Mike DeGeurin's defense of Councilman Michael Yarbrough delved deeply into option two -- innocence by incompetence. A video showing Yarbrough confirming the acceptance of a previous cash payment from Reyes and the receipt of $1,500 more drew this explanation from DeGeurin:

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