Abortion or Extortion?

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A Florida abortionist have been convicted of conspiracy, attempted extortion, and mail fraud, in connection with an ongoing dispute with the county. His real estate consultant has also been convicted of lying to the FBI and filing false affidavits about threats against him that he alleged were made by county officials.

The abortionist may have been hoping to capitalize on dramatic media reports about "anti-abortion violence" and find a sympathetic jury that would readily believe that anyone who opposed abortion was a violent, dangerous maniac.

When the abortionist first made plans to open a facility in Marion County, officials sent him a letter in which they urged him not to come. According to county officials, he ultimately replied with an offer to go away if the county would buy his building for $500,000. The chairman of the county commissioners believed that this amounted to a demand to be paid off, and contacted the FBI, who instructed him to secretly tape phone calls. But the FBI did not think the evidence at that point made a credible case for extortion.

That changed when his real estate consultant claimed that a county commissioner had repeatedly threatened him. He said that the commissioner mentioned a fire that had burned down the previous abortion center in the county in 1989 and then told him that "it's not an 'if' but a 'when' that this new clinic is bombed"; and "advised" him in a threatening manner not to bring his family to the county. He then said he would bring a lawsuit against the county unless they settled with him for $6 million. When the abortionist and the realtor met with county officials to discuss a settlement, the FBI secretly videotaped it. At that meeting county officials refused to pay the $6 million, at which point the realtor said a court would award them as much as $100 million, and the two men threatened to "bankrupt the county" unless they agreed to settle.

At the trial, the prosecution played tapes of conversations that the realtor claimed had included various threats. No such threats were heard on the tapes.

News reports of the trial mention two key defense arguments: One, that county officials had lied when they pretended to be willing to make a pay-off in the recorded phone calls, and that this made it a case of "entrapment". Two, that the charges were overblown and an attempt to persecute the defendants simply because they ran an abortion facility. Prosecutors insisted that this case was "about extortion, not abortion".

A website supporting the defendants, "Refuse and Resist", describes this case as "anti-abortion government officials working in unison with their churches leaders, to use their positions of power" to shut down abortionists. They quote an unidentified observer at the trial as saying, "It appears that the crime of conspiracy is on the other side." The evidence they offer to support this conspiracy theory included: 1. The lead FBI agent on the case is a member of a Catholic church that has been involved in anti-abortion protests. 2. The chairman of the county commissioners and the county's lawyer were both members of a Baptist church, and the pastor of that church wrote a letter to the abortionistt saying that he and his congregation would use "every legal means" to keep him out of the county. And 3. The prosecutor referred to the defendant as a "head crusher".

Refuse and Resist also believed the jury selection was biased against the abortionist. They note that, when speaking to the jury, the judge played down the fact that he was an abortionist, describing him simply as practicing "reproductive health care", and he dismissed four jurors because they were members of churches that had participated in Life Chain.

As of this writing, a sentencing date has not yet been set. In theory the abortionist could be sentenced to as much as 30 years and the realtor to 40 years.

Sources: Business Week, Oct 9 & Nov 22, 2000; AP, Dec 31, 2000 & Feb 1, 2001; Florida Sun Sentinel, Jan 4, 2001; Florida Star Banner, Jan 9 & 25, 2001; Pro-Life Infonet, Dec, 2000, Jan & Feb 2001; Refuse and Resist website (www.refuseandresist.org)

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Posted 11 Mar 2001.

Copyright 2001 by Pregnant Pause
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