WASHINGTON -- Prosecutors this week concluded their case against Nebraska attorney Maurice David Steier with a show of evidence that a $100,000 fee he received in connection with a Florida housing bond deal was not for bond advice but rather was intended as a bribe.
Steier, a self-described specialist in corporate real estate and tax law, is a codefendant and alleged coconspirator in the government's case against developer Leonard Briscoe and former PaineWebber Inc. Vice President Lance Wilson.
Independent prosecutor Arlin Adams is charging that the three defendants conspired to use bribes and false bond financing commitment letters to illegally obtain Urban Development Action Grants from the Housing and Urban Development Department for Briscoe's projects.
At issue in the trial as it entered its 11th week before the U.S. District Court here was a $100,000 fee Steier says he received for offering bond advice and being a "UDAG consultant" on Briscoe's Wedgewood Plaza apartment complex in Riviera Beach, Fla. A $15.8 million tax-exempt bond issue was sold for the project in April 1986.
The government's star witness, Dubois Gilliam, a former HUD deputy assistant secretary, last month said the fee was intended as a kickback to himself from Briscoe for engineering the award of a grant to the project.
Gilliam said that in early 1986 he instructed Steier, who has his personal attorney and an old friend, to pose as a "UDAG consultant" for the Wedgewood project and set up a corporation to manage and invest the fee for Gilliam. In return, Gilliam said, he told Steier to keep half the funds.
"His role was to be my front person, to take the money that was due and develop a paper trail for doing work on the project," Gilliam testified, adding that "Steier said he would hold the money until I left government."
Prosecutors this week bolstered Gilliams' testimony, which was tarnished by his repeated admissions of committing perjury and other crimes, by producing hard evidence of the transactions the former HUD official had described.
Documents produced by the prosecution showed that Steier in January 1986 established a Nebraska corporation, Northwest Investment Co., whose purpose was to deal with all kinds of investments. Through Northwest, Steier billed the Wedgewood project for providing legal advice and "obtaining an urban development action grant," documents said.
Steier's legal assistant and secretary, Carol Castor, was called in by defense attorneys this week to bolster Steier's case. Instead, she appeared to cause the defendant some damage by testifying in cross-examination that "Northwest Investment was really just a folder in a credenza" in Steier's office.
Castor had been named by Steier as an officer of Northwest, yet she admitted in testimony that she could not say where the company got its money or what Steier had done to earn it.
According to a bank wire trace and other documents produced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steier invested $83,500 of Northwest's funds in accounts at Dean Witter Reynolds Inc.; Smith Barney, Harris Upham & Co.; and Mutual of Omaha. Gilliam had testified that he instructed Steier to invest the money in those specific accounts.
Another several thousand dollars was paid to Charles Adams, Gilliam's nephew and the sole employee of Northwest Investment, documents showed. Castor testified that she did not know or remember what work Adams performed for the company, and that she never actually met the man.
After setting up Northwest, Gilliam testified that in the spring of 1986, he and Steier discussed giving the company "a more fashionable name." They decided to derive "Mae Rose & Co.," from the middle names of each of their mothers.
Steier incorporated the new company in May of 1986, stating that it would provide "financial consultation" and "bond financing services," according to documents. Further, documents state, the company would "do any and all things with respect to investment banking."
The FBI wire trace showed that $27,000 of Northwest's funds were transferred to a Mae Rose account in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, Gilliam's nephew, also the sole employee of Mae Rose, received some of the money.
As further evidence of the alleged conspiracy, prosecutors produced a $300 check that Gilliam said he had given Steier to pay for the incorporation of Northwest. But Castor testified that the check was for "IRS work" Steier provided Gilliam in connection with a $5,600 delinquency the Internal Revenue Service uncovered in December 1985 in Gilliam's tax return.
She also testified that Steier was in Nebraska and not in Atlantic City, N.J., on May 1, 1986. On that day, prosecutors said, Gilliam met with Steier and other alleged conspirators in the casino town to plan further fraudulent housing deals.