Blowing Smoke at Hotel Six

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

As a result of the judge's rulings, the defense was not allowed to present a parade of federal and local lawmen challenging the reliability and conduct of Julio Molineiro, the controversial informant who performed the near-impossible, conning the wily Reyes into biting on his cash bait. That didn't stop Reyes's attorney, Ramsey, from loosing perhaps the best barb of the trial concerning the chatty Chilean: "The government has gotten in bed with a whore and gotten up with a social disease."

Because the prosecution played its cards conservatively, no attempt was made to introduce evidence that while Betti Maldonado was a paid NAFTA liaison to the city and later port commissioner, she pressured former associate and boyfriend Marc Campos to continue to funnel money from a lobbying contract with the government of Mexico to her through her brother: not exactly behavior consistent with her attorney's portrait of her as sweet, goodhearted, gullible and naive. That testimony could have provided the vital proof of a predisposition to corruption by Maldonado that the government failed to document.

The jury also never got to hear a synopsis of accusations over the years that Ben Reyes helped his brothers, Tony and Greg, get city contracts. They also did not hear evidence that as a councilman, Reyes had assisted Guzman, a Miami-based bond company that employed his codefendant and Council successor John Castillo, to get bond underwriting assignments from the city of Houston. The pleas by Reyes on misdemeanor theft and campaign violations that ended a probe of the councilman in 1991 by the Harris County district attorney's office likewise remained unmentioned.

Although the jury did hear a brief admission by Reyes that his claim to have been shot in Vietnam was false, the panel was never told that Reyes has long falsely maintained in campaign literature that he received two Purple Heart medals for his nonexistent wounds. Certainly not a crime, but not exactly a credibility builder either.

But given the mass of the Hotel Six evidence that was heard, perhaps the table was just too full to allow any extra morsels for dessert. And this history of small and petty acts is of little importance compared to the impact of a jury decision that could strip Houston City Council of two incumbents and impose mandatory prison terms on the five defendants, or send them all home, free if not scot-free.

The one common sentiment -- for the government, the FBI, the stellar defense team and the defendants -- is that no one wants to try this sucker again.

E-mail Tim Fleck at tim_fleck@houstonpress.com.

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