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Liberty City Charade Ends With Injustice

Yesterday morning's headline on the top of the front page of the Sun-Sentinel was, "5 Guilty in Sears Tower Plot." This morning's lead headline is: "Desperation Turns Deadly Off Florida."

They are connected in a way, because both are about Haitians. The first is about the Liberty City defendants who have been entrapped and set up by lying informants and pressured feds and the second about ten Haitians drowning while trying to make it to America.

Patrick Abraham could have easily been on that boat. In his jail cell, the 26-year-old immigrant says he loves America and would never try to hurt it. But now he's a convicted Liberty City "terrorist" who will likely spend most of the rest of his life in prison.

That's one of the dirty little secrets about the Liberty City case. We always say the defendants are poor African-American men. More specifically, all but the leader of the group are poor Haitian men. And we all know about that terrible problem we have with Haitian terrorism in America, right?

Nobody seems to be in their corner as the government railroaded them into prison in one of the most absurd federal cases you'll ever see. You don't see Jesse Jackson or Al 

Sharpton stepping up to the plate on this one.

There never was any "Sears Tower Plot." Just a bunch of hot air.

Those five men never should have been found guilty. They were led along by two corrupt informants and an FBI unit that was hungry for a terrorism case to feed the Bush Justice Department, whether it was cooked up or not.

At the time of the arrest, since-disgraced former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales talked about the case as if he'd just personally saved the country from destruction. The FBI's John Pistole, however, conceded the group was more "aspirational than operational."   

This is a case that during the past three years has gone from a joke to an injustice. And the failure of the press to expose it is astounding. I'm just about the only reporter in the country who dug into the pasts of the career informants who led the case for the FBI. The informants, one of whom extorted $7,000 from someone who raped his own girlfriend and the other who failed an FBI polygraph that should have disqualified him from the case, offered the group's leader, Narseal Batiste, money, big money, if he would pledge allegiance to al Qaeda and promise to commit terrorist acts. Batiste obviously said what he needed to say to get the money. He never acted on a thing.

And while we're on Batiste, it's important to say: If anyone could have possibly been found guilty in this farce, it was Batiste. He was the only one who did any talking. The others were just hanging around, silently.  

The first two trials, because of these obvious problems, ended with hung juries, even though the government held all the cards and had an obviously sympathetic judge in Joan Lenard, who ruled in the prosecution's favor at nearly every point. She wouldn't let key evidence about the informants be heard by the juries or key witnesses for the defense take the stand. Basically, she obstructed the true narrative so that the truth was hidden behind the smoke and mirrors brought forth by the prosecution.  

Private investigator Rory McMahon, who was working on behalf of Patrick Abraham, complained about the first trial in the New Times. To this day the former federal probation officer says it's the most ridiculous case he's ever seen. So what did Lenard do? Even though McMahon had broken no court rules, she conducted a mini-inquisition and then refused to authorize payment of $10,000 in work he'd done on Abraham's behalf for attorney Albert Levin. 

That's right, in a trial that is supposed to be about preserving American ideals, a guy was basically fined $10,000 for exercising his basic right of free speech. And that's the great irony of this case: While supposedly trying to defend America, the government has violated the country's ideals and perpetrated a great injustice.

Even with the obviously biased Lenard at the helm, there were two hung juries. But Lenard and the U.S. Attorney's Office weren't going to be denied, no matter how many trials and how much money it cost taxpayers to prosecute this sham. In this last trial, it seems the fix was in.

First, one of the three black jurors on the jury came down ill. Why? Was it because he was getting browbeaten in deliberations? We don't know. But Lenard sent in an alternate, a Hispanic woman, and ordered the other jurors to "wipe your minds clean." Then one of the remaining two black jurors, Juror No. 4, said she too had become ill because of pressure exerted on her by other jurors. Obviously, she wouldn't go along with a guilty verdict and believed the defendants were innocent. She'd made up her mind. Other jurors complained that she didn't "trust the law."

Yeah, looking at this sham case, what right-minded person would?

Lenard should have found which way the juror had decided and then, if it indicated a hung jury, ordered a mistrial. Instead she gave a speech about the juror had abrograted her duty as an American and replaced her with somebody else. 

Where was the Miami Herald and Sun-Sentinel in all this? AWOL, completely AWOL. Sure, Jay Weaver covered the play-by-play and offered up valuable details, but neither newspaper ever revealed the truth about the government's informants or properly exposed this charade. It was typical "balanced" he said-she said bullshit. Neither newspaper mentioned Lenard's extraordinary fining of McMahon for criticizing her in public. Instead both sat idly by and watched the train wreck unfold, occasionally offering a description or two about how it progressing. 

-- On a more positive note, Frontline did a fine journalistic job on Bernie Madoff and his Fort Lauderdale crony Michael Bienes in the piece aired Tuesday night. Correspondent Martin Smith and his partner Marcela Gaviria are great at what they do and that really showed up on the screen (other than a few parts marred by the presence of a certain New Times reporter). You can watch it online here. My favorite part is when they air a video from Nova Southeastern University lionizing the clownish Bienes -- who oddly looks straight up at certain times while he's speaking (hmmm) -- by putting him in the school's Entrepreneur Hall of Fame. "With wisdom and grace this modern day Renaissance man has left an indelible mark on our community," the school said about Bienes at the time. Bienes, of course, was on NSU's board of trustees, as well. Just more evidence that Nova Southeastern is the heart of evil in Broward County.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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