WASHINGTON - The government's conspiracy case against Lance Wilson was "trumped up" and was really aimed at pressuring the former PaineWebber Inc. broker and HUD aide to testify against his former boss, Housing Secretary Samuel Pierce, Wilson's attorney charged yesterday.
"Wilson should never have been indicted in the first place. This was nothing but a witch hunt," said Theodore V. Wells of the New Jersey law firm Lowenstein, Sandler, Kohl. Fisher & Boylan. Wells made his remarks in an interview after he and other defense attorneys presented their closing arguments in the 12-week trial before the U.S. District Court here. Jury deliberations are expected to begin this week.
Prosecutors declined to comment on Wells' charges. "I try my cases in court, not in the hallway," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Gelber.
Wells contended that ever since Congress and the Justice Department launched a criminal investigation into the so-called HUD scandal with the appointment of special prosecutor Arlin Adams in 1990, the "true target" has been Pierce.
Wilson, the first top official of the Housing and Urban Development Department to be indicted by Adams, was a protege of Pierce and one of his closest aides. The long-time Reagan housing secretary recruited Wilson to be his chief of staff and executive assistant between 1981 and 1984. Wilson joined PaineWebber as a first vice president of municipal finance in 1986.
"Lance Wilson was nothing but a pawn" and the victim of a "political indictment," Wells said. "He was indicted unfairly, solely because the independent counsel hoped it could pressure Lance to plead to something he did not do and thereafter give damaging testimony about Pierce."
Wells said that while Adams' prosecution team never actually offered Wilson immunity against the conspiracy and fraud charges pending against him in exchange for testimony against Pierce, "they made it clear that if Lance ever wanted to come in and talk, they would be amiable to some type of deal."
Wells said the government has been trying to develop a perjury case against Pierce, contending that he lied when he told Congress in 1990 that he "was not personally involved in funding decisions" during his eight years in office.
"They adopted a strategy aimed at Wilson and [Deborah Gore] Dean, Pierce's two personal assistants," Wells said. "They trumped up charges in hopes that one or the other would testify against Pierce." Dean was charged with corruption in an unrelated indictment this summer.
"I don't think there's any question about it," said Dean, who attended the Wilson trial yesterday. "I wouldn't have been indicted if I had cooperated" with the prosecutors.
"The indictments against Lance and I aren't substantive and have been extremely shallow," she said.
Wells added that "at no time has Lance even for a second considered making a deal."
The prosecution in its case against Wilson has sought to demonstrate that the PaineWebber executive was a key player in a conspiracy to illegally obtain the department's Urban Development Action Grants for a partner's housing projects through the use of bribes and false bond financing commitment letters.
Wilson's primary role in the alleged conspiracy was to write the commitment letters. "You have a rare opportunity to get inside a conspiracy," Adams' deputy, Roscoe Howard, told the 18-member jury in his concluding arguments Monday.
But Wells maintained that the government "has no evidence at all" that any of Wilson's actions were illegal. "There was not one witness in 40 days of testimony who had any personal knowledge of wrongdoing by Lance," he said, adding "it was a non-case based on non-witnesses."
Even the government's star witness, former HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary DuBois Gilliam, who admitted to taking nearly $500,000 in bribes while at the department, did not implicate Wilson in the alleged conspiracy or bribes, Wells said.
But Gilliam nevertheless was tempted to drop Wilson's name in testimony before Congress and before the court because he knew prosecutors "wanted to have a case against a high-ranking HUD official and would not question him too closely," Wells said.