Going Through These Things Twice

tuck inside of Hotel Six with the Houston blues again

Yarbrough took the stand in his own defense and was humiliated when he admitted that he had not filed income taxes for three years. While he will have undoubtedly patched that hole by filing returns before September, his defense presents a dilemma for his attorney, Mike DeGeurin.

"Yarbrough was damned if he did and damned if he didn't," a defense team member said about the councilman's sorrowful performance under cross-examination.

"To me, the single worst evidence in the trial was, 'We don't want half a vote, we want a whole vote'," says the attorney. He referred to a videotaped meeting in which FBI agent Bob Dogium explained to Yarbrough why he was paying him a second installment of $1,500.

"If I have a memory of damaging evidence in this trial, that was it," says the defense team lawyer. "So Mike [DeGeurin] kinda has to say, '[Yarbrough] loves dogs, look at the house he grew up in, his father was a postman.' I mean, he's gotta go there."

Castillo and Maldonado are in the second tier of targets. Maldonado is there because she admittedly broke the law in passing cash to councilmembers. Attorney Dick DeGuerin's defense that she was entrapped into her actions found less sympathy than expected from the first jury, which may force him to rethink his strategy.

In Castillo's case, the jury had trouble buying the claim, made by him and Reyes, that Reyes was merely repaying an old campaign debt to Castillo in a cash exchange in the bar at Ruggles.

Juror Michael Goldsmith favored acquittal for some defendants, but he didn't cut Castillo any slack on that explanation.

"I personally think that's ridiculous," says Goldsmith. "If someone owes me $25,000, I'm not going to let it sit for two years and then go, 'Can I have $2,000 of that?' I'm going to want it. Considering he had an entire campaign fund to pay this money out, he could have paid it at any time."

The most independent members of the defense team were Castillo's lawyers, Bob Bennett and George "Mac" Secrest. They kept their own counsel much of the time and put Castillo on the stand, to the dismay of some of the other attorneys.

"They were most fearful of the guilt-by-association backlash," says one team member, who still lauded Bennett for a superb effort. "And maybe appropriately so, because Castillo has been linked to Reyes for so long. And that's not necessarily a beautiful flower, under the circumstances, to be in the shade of."

"I don't think we're going to do anything differently," says Castillo counsel Bennett on the next trial. "We showed John Castillo's public face and his private face -- his bank accounts and tax returns. We gave the jury everything about John Castillo, including his truthful testimony."

One piece of evidence that didn't make it into the first round could provide the government with an additional challenge to Castillo's credibility. It concerns a conversation between Castillo and Ross Allyn as they drove away from a meeting with Molineiro at a West Loop office in December of 1995.

Allyn provided his version of that talk to the FBI during negotiations in May 1996 to become a cooperating witness, under the guidance of his first attorney, Jay Nadel. After the discussions fell through and Allyn was indicted, he hired attorney Paul Nugent, who successfully moved to have the FBI conversation suppressed.

Now that Allyn is no longer a defendant in the case, he could be called as a witness by the prosecution to repeat what he told the FBI.

During the trial, Castillo testified that after they left the meeting with Molineiro, he had told Allyn to make sure any contributions from the Cayman Group were made by check, even though the FBI tape of the meeting has him saying, "Cash is fine."

According to what the FBI claims Allyn told agents later, he and Castillo drove from their meeting, with Allyn expressing suspicions about the Cayman Group and cautioning the recently elected councilman that it was not wise to take cash from them.

Allyn said he couldn't believe that Castillo would take cash from Molineiro, who was masquerading as businessman Carlos Montero. But Councilman Castillo reportedly replied, "Well, if it's done right, when you take cash, you always want to use a public place or a car, or in your own office."

That interview may go a long way toward explaining why the government was so reluctant to excuse Allyn from the group of defendants, and why prosecutors consider Castillo in the top tier of defendants. During the trial, Castillo denied to prosecutors that he had made the remark.

Contacted at his home, Allyn says it's been a long time since he saw the summary of his statement to the FBI. He declined to make any comment about its contents.

With Allyn acquitted and out of the dock, Peavy would appear to be the only remaining defendant with sufficient bargaining chips to cut a deal with the government and avoid retrial.

Under the guidance of lawyer Cogdell -- who has shown a knack in previous multi-defendant federal cases for lowering his client's profile and securing an acquittal -- Peavy got an even split from the jury on his bribery-conspiracy counts.

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