Archive for April 15th, 2010

Text of New York Post on 1995 Witness-Tampering Investigation of McMahons’ Lawyer’s Husband

Below is the text of the November 22, 1995, New York Post article that was uploaded earlier today in facsimile form at http://muchnick.net/nypost1995.pdf.

A text-only PDF version now also can be viewed at http://muchnick.net/nyposttext.pdf.

A related article from the Village Voice of December 19, 1995 — headlined “The Fixer” and written by William Bastone — was posted here earlier this week and can be viewed at http://muchnick.net/bergmanarticle.pdf.

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TAMPERING CLOUD OVER WRESTLING BIG’S TRIAL

New York Post

By JACK NEWFIELD and PHIL MUSHNICK

November 22, 1995

Federal prosecutors are probing whether a TV producer tampered with witnesses and obstructed justice in a case in which his lawyer-wife represented a top wrestling promoter, The Post has learned.

The Brooklyyn-based investigation focuses on TV producer Martin Bergman and his wife, Laura Brevetti, a former prosecutor who has handled several high-profile cases as a defense lawyer, federal sources told The Post.

The probe stems from the trial of Vince McMahon, the World Wrestling Federation czar who was acquitted last year of distributing steroids and encouraging their use among his wrestlers, including Hulk Hogan.

Brevetti was McMahon’s lawyer.

Two FBI agents, working with Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Sack, have been interviewing witnesses about Bergman’s conduct leading up to the trial, sources said.

Investigators are trying to determine if Bergman pursued witnesses and potential witnesses against McMahon in an effort to change, taint or discredit their testimony by inducing them to accept “TV consultant” money, sources said.

Bergman contacted witnesses, their lawyers and journalists seeking information and access to McMahon’s accusers, ostensibly to produce a TV piece on the trial, sources said.

He alternately represented himself as a producer for “60 Minutes,” “Hard Copy,” “A Current Affair” and “American Journal” – without disclosing that he lived with Brevetti and was working out of her office.

Bergman offered one key witness between $250,000 and $400,000, sources and government documents state.

The sources also said the witness, McMahon’s top deputy Emily Feinberg, told investigators of Bergman’s offer and testified that she purchased and distributed steroids at McMahon’s behest.

Feinberg, also known as Emily Arth, posed in Playboy magazine in 1988.

The government also is looking into the role Bergman may have played in preparing false ethics complaints against the lead prosecutor and two investigators in the McMahon case, sources told The Post.

A Post investigation has established that Bergman also was responsible for three articles that smeared the prosecutorial team – one appearing on the eve of the trial.

One was an investigative story in the New York Observer that attacked lead prosecutor Sean O’Shea for sexual misconduct. Sources at the Observer say Bergman timed the piece – picked up by The Post the next day – to appear on the eve of the McMahon trial.

The sources said Bergman also planted two negative stories about federal investigator Anthony Valenti in the Observer at a time when Valenti was known to be preparing an indictment against McMahon.

All the stories were based on complaints later deemed unfounded by the Justice Department, and O’Shea, Valenti and FBI agent Warren Flagg were exonerated.

Federal probers are trying to establish whether there were financial connections among Bergman, McMahon and the lawyers who filed the baseless misconduct complaints, the sources said.

Valerie Capom [spelling unclear in facsimile] , chief of the criminal division in the Eastern District, declined comment on the investigation.

Bergman and Brevetti declined, through their lawyer Joel Cohen, to be interviewed.

In a separate statement to The Post, Brevetti said:

“I have been advised of no investigation and have never been contacted by anyone in the government about the existence of one. In any event, there is absolutely no basis for any claim of wrongdoing by me. It’s clear to me that this story is being waged by certain individuals within the government who have a personal vendetta against me.”

Joe Conason, the Observer’s executive editor, told The Post: “We were used by Bergman. I was upset that he never disclosed his conflict of interest to us. I took his name off the article. I didn’t pay him for the article. He never wrote for the Observer again.”

Bergman had sought the assignment based on advance knowledge of the ethics complaint, a source said. Bergman asked O’Shea to respond to the complaint, filed on June 24, 1994, before O’Shea even knew of it. The story ran on June 29, a week before McMahon’s trial.

The pattern was repeated with investigator Valenti.

Shaun Assael, whose byline was on the O’Shea article, also feels duped.

“Bergman used me to throw O’Shea off his game, and to help his future wife at the start of the trial. Bergman wasn’t honest with me about his tangled web,” Assael said. Bergman denied any involvement in the O’Shea story to the FBI. But the agency has a fax stating he was co-writing the story.

Marriage puzzled their pals

By JACK NEWFIELD and PHIL MUSHNICK

They’re the latest Odd Couple: Laura Brevetti, the high-profile lawyer with the sparkling track record as a federal prosecutor and defense attorney, last year married longtime beau Martin Bergman, a free-lance TV producer with a reputation for misrepresentation.

As a young prosecutor, Brevetti played hardball with bad guys. In 1981, she played a role in the Abscam convictions.

In 1983, she was named the first female member of the Organized Crime Strike Force. In 1986, she led the prosecution that crippled the hierarchy of the Bonanno crime family and Teamsters Local 814. New York magazine once named her Prosecutor of the Year.

As a defense lawyer in 1992, Brevetti bucked what seemed to be long odds by winning acquittal of Westchester nanny Olivia Riner, accused of murdering the 3-month-old in her charge.

Two years later, Brevetti won the acquittal of World Wrestling Federation boss Vince McMahon, accused of running a steroid ring for his wrestlers.

Brevetti and Bergman were married last year by Mayor Giuliani. Lawyers, prosecutors and friends professed total mystification by the union.

In 1981, Bergman was indicted but cleared of charges of bribery and tampering with public records. He also was an FBI informant in the Suffolk County sewer district scandal, law enforcement sources told The Post.

“A Current Affair” producer John Johnston, who worked on WWF stories, remembers Bergman as someone who “always operated in the shadows.”

“He always talked tough like he was going to deliver the goods on the WWF bad guys, but he never delivered,” Johnston said. “He was tight with [WWF czar Vince] McMahon and his [longtime] attorney Jerry McDevitt. He was always leaking conspiracy theories that seemed to be coming directly out of McDevitt’s office.”

Several sources said Bergman got Geraldo Rivera’s now-defunct TV show “Now It Can Be Told” to do an entire half-hour attacking the motives and integrity of police and prosecutors in the Westchester nanny murder case – around the same time his wife was winning an acquittal for the nanny.

In 1991, Bergman co-produced a “60 Minutes” segment attacking Sen. Alfonse D’Amato using mobster-turned-information Henry Hill, who made charges that seemed irresponsible even to D’Amator’s critics. D’Amato demanded that CBS fire Bergman, but Bergman was working free-lance. He has never produced another segment for “60 Minutes.”

In 1991, Joe Conason and Post columnist Jack Newfield met with Bergman while preparing an article on D’Amato for Playboy. Bergman asked for a $5,000 fee to provide some research. Newfield and Conason said they told Bergman it was unethical to pay for information.

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‘Tampering Cloud’ Over Linda McMahon’s Company’s 1994 Federal Trial (New York Post, 11/22/95)

I have posted a crude facsimile of the story about World Wrestling Entertainment defense attorney Laura Brevetti and her husband Martin Bergman from the New York Post on November 22, 1995. See http://muchnick.net/nypost1995.pdf.

The article, “TAMPERING CLOUD OVER WRESTLING BIG’S TRIAL,” lays out the accusations that Bergman offered inducements to Emily Feinberg, a star prosecution witness at the 1994 federal steroid-trafficking trial of Linda and Vince McMahon’s WWE (then known as the WWF).

The sidebar article, “Marriage puzzled their pals,” describes the “Odd Couple” marriage of Brevetti and Bergman.

This copy is not easy on the eyes. I put it up in this form in order to illustrate that the global question of obstruction of justice dogging Linda McMahon’s current Senate campaign in Connecticut should not be regarded as either old or trivial. On the subject of “old,” think of it more as an important story that other media, irresponsibly, allowed to die instead of working to amplify and resolve. Please also consider whether there is a healthy political statute of limitations on evidence that after a major candidate’s company escaped conviction at a federal trial, a credible and well-documented “tampering cloud” hovered over it.

In the coming days I will try to get the complete text, or at least key portions, transcribed and posted.

My thanks to the folks at the New York Post library for running this down on microfiche. (The newspaper’s electronic archives go back only to 1998.)

I apologize to the Post reporters – the late muckraker Jack Newfield, in collaboration with sports-media columnist Phil Mushnick – for earlier calling their story a pickup of William Bastone’s near-simultaneous Village Voice article about Bergman. (I previously uploaded that one, “The Fixer,” to http://muchnick.net/bergmanarticle.pdf.) Newfield and Mushnick actually came first.

Irv Muchnick

Did Linda McMahon Obstruct Justice? (13th in a series – A Story Only Newspapers and Bloggers Can Tell)

“[Vince] would like you to call [Dr. George] Zahorian to tell him not to come to any more of our events and to also clue him in on any action that the Justice Department is thinking of taking [emphasis added].”

Linda McMahon “CONFIDENTIAL INTEROFFICE MEMO” to Pat Patterson, December 1, 1989

***

“At no time did they ever charge anybody with any kind of obstruction of justice or whatever it is you were suggesting…”

World Wrestling Entertainment lawyer Jerry McDevitt to Ted Mann of New London’s The Day

++++++++++

Daniela Altimari of the Hartford Courant has blogged a thoughtful reflection on what a colleague, Colin McEnroe, speculatively labels the “post-journalism” era of politics. See “Rob Simmons, Linda McMahon and the Fourth Estate,” http://blogs.courant.com/capitol_watch/2010/04/rob-simmons-linda-mcmahon-and.html.

The topic is urgent for Rob Simmons, Linda McMahon’s main opponent for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut, since he faces the challenge of overcoming her $50 million self-funded campaign.

And the topic is important to me, a Connecticut outsider, regardless of whatever level of success McMahon achieves in the electoral arena. She is running on the basis of her business record. That business is not just sleazy – even most ill-informed observers concede as much, usually with a shrug. It is also a cult of industrialized death – a bit more problematic for citizens and voters who are not themselves comatose.

Ted Mann of The Day has broken the story of what may be the defining piece of Linda McMahon’s record. In 1989 the pro wrestling company she co-founded and ran in partnership with her husband Vince got word that a Pennsylvania doctor was under federal investigation for pushing steroids. George Zahorian was the assigned ringside physician at many events of the predecessor of World Wrestling Entertainment, including its television tapings, where he was part of the on-camera cast. Vince McMahon himself was one of Zahorian’s illegal steroid customers, and so were many, many of the McMahons’ wrestlers.

Mann acquired and published the first complete version of the December 1, 1989, memo that Linda McMahon sent to another company executive, Pat Patterson, in which she directed Patterson to dump Zahorian and to warn him that he was under federal criminal investigation.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is not old news. First, because performers in the McMahons’ industry have not stopped dropping dead at young ages and in disproportionate numbers. Those numbers, concededly, were slowed by the institution in 2006 of a half-assed and Orwellian “wellness policy” – a decade after the mega-profitable WWE had stopped steroid testing altogether because the occupational health and safety of its “independent contractor assets” was more trouble than it was worth.

And it is not old news because Linda McMahon is a candidate for the United States Senate, and her role in an arguable obstruction of justice was never reported in depth at the time, much less in the months since she declared her candidacy.

Numerous legitimate questions flow from Ted Mann’s first swing at the Linda memo. For example: Did the tip to the McMahons that Zahorian was “hot” go down as Linda described it? Former federal prosecutor James West says not. That conflict should be resolved.

Another question: Was the tip a difference-maker in Vince McMahon and WWE’s acquittal in federal court in 1994, three years after Dr. Zahorian’s conviction? Maybe, maybe not. But the McMahons’ dream team of defense counsel took no more chances with that than they did with any other aspect of securing a “not guilty” outcome. In an offshoot I have been reporting – and no one in the Connecticut media has yet picked up – their lead trial attorney, Laura Brevetti, had a not-so-smooth-operator husband, Martin Bergman, who freelanced as a “fixer.” Though a subsequent criminal investigation did not result in his prosecution for witness-tampering, no reasonable person could conclude that Bergman’s contacts with Vince McMahon’s former secretary, Emily Feinberg, were anything other than highly improper.

It’s a complex story – noirish and corporate – and as Altimari suggests, only one media institution is equipped to tell it right.

Even if it’s about to become extinct, let’s hope the newspaper brontosaurus rears its head and reasserts its relevance.

Irv Muchnick


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