WASHINGTON -- The U.S. government's key witness in its fraud and conspiracy trial against former PaineWebber Inc. Vice President Lance Wilson admitted repeatedly yesterday to committing crimes and perjuring himself before Congress, the Internal Revenue Service, the courts, and even the independent prosecutors.

In cross-examination on the witness stand, Wilson's attorney succeeded in getting former Housing and Urban Development Department Deputy Secretary DuBois Gilliam to admit dozens of illegal acts and lies, including some that were unknown to the prosecutors. The attorney's intent was to discredit the testimony, which represents the core of the government's case, presented by Gilliam last week.

To convict Wilson and two codefendants of charges involving an alleged conspiracy to defraud the government of grants, the 15-member jury must conclude that Gilliam and other witnesses have demonstrated the defendants' guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Gilliam is testifying before the U.S. District Court here under an immunity agreement that protects him from being prosecuted for anything he admits on the stand. Gilliam was incarcerated for 13 months during 1989 and 1990 for accepting bribes in a case involving a development project the department sponsored in the Virgin Islands.

In that case as well as in the present one, Gilliam testified that he solicited the alleged bribes and otherwise orchestrated the alleged conspiracies. He said he arranged the approval of Urban Development Action Grants for housing projects partly owned by Wilson and codefendant Leonard Briscoe, a developer, in exchange for receiving more than $100,000 in kickbacks from Briscoe.

Wilson's alleged role in the conspiracy, according to Gilliam, was to enable the projects to be considered for grants by writing financial commitment letters pledging PaineWebber to underwrite the project's bonds. HUD rules require developers to supplement their grants with private financing.

Gilliam's testimony in the fifth week of the trial did not implicate Wilson directly in any bribe, the most serious offense being charged by the government. But he did testify that Wilson provided a gratuity, which the government is calling illegal, when he paid for an overnight theater trip to New York for Gilliam and his wife.

Wilson's attorney, Theodore Wells of the New Jersey firm of Lowenstein, Sandler, Kohl, Fisher & Boyle, hammered away yesterday at Gilliam's credibility, demonstrating that the star witness had even lied previously before federal district court juries.

In a civil case tried in 1990, Gilliam said he attempted to implicate an innocent man who worked for the Small Business Administration, also named Wilson, by wrongly testifying that the man had solicited bribes.

"You committed perjury in an attempt to put the blame on Mr. Wilson, and you knew that your lies were going to hurt Mr. Wilson's reputation," Wells said. "But you were basically willing to sacrifice Mr. Wilson in order to help yourself, right?"

Gilliam responded, "That's correct."

Wells also identified three crimes that Gilliam conceded he committed before joining HUD and which he said were not known to the half-dozen federal prosecutors and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents present in the courtroom.

U.S. attorneys sitting before Judge Stanley Harris did not disguise their surprise at Gilliam's admissions.

Gilliam also admitted to lying on his 1984 federal income tax form and perjuring himself when he testified at highly publicized hearings involving the HUD scandal before a House subcommittee in 1990.

Congressional investigators who had arranged Gilliam's 1990 committee appearance and who were present at Monday's court hearing said Gilliam's testimony is still believable. The testimony is rich with details that have since been verified by the government, they said.

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