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Witness Alters Story in Tucker Trial : Courts: He softens claim that payment to ex-Councilman Filer was a bribe. Prosecutors show videotape of Rep. Tucker taking money.

October 07, 1995|DAVID ROSENZWEIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The government's key witness in the extortion trial of U.S. Rep. Walter R. Tucker III backed away Friday from earlier testimony that he made a $3,000 payoff to former Compton City Councilman Maxcy Filer.

Businessman John Macardican told a federal court jury that he gave the money to Filer at the direction of an associate, but had no direct knowledge that it was to secure the councilman's vote on a proposed waste-to-energy conversion plant in 1984.

In testimony Thursday and in secretly recorded conversations with Tucker, Macardican told of making a "payoff" to Filer only to be betrayed when the proposal came up for a vote.

The City Council voted 5 to 0 to deny the project a conditional use permit.

Filer, who retired from politics in 1991, was never charged with wrongdoing, and he reacted indignantly Thursday when Macardican's testimony was aired.

"It never happened," he repeated Friday. "I didn't take a nickel from that man."

Filer said Macardican gave him some legal work years later "and he still owes me $5,000. It's disgraceful that he tells these lies."

Macardican went to the FBI after the project was killed, claiming that Compton officials had demanded bribes in return for their votes. No investigation was launched.

Five years later, however, Macardican reactivated his proposal and was enlisted by the FBI to serve as an undercover informant in what became a three-year probe of political corruption in Compton.

He was equipped with a body recorder and set up in an office in Compton, where the FBI secretly videotaped his meetings with city officials.

On Friday, prosecutors unveiled some of their strongest evidence against the 38-year-old Democratic congressman: black-and-white videotapes showing Macardican counting out cash in his office, setting it in a pile and then handing the money to Tucker.

Tucker is accused of extorting $30,000 and demanding a $250,000 kickback from Macardican's Compton Energy Systems while serving as mayor of Compton in 1991 and 1992.

He is charged also with extorting $7,500 from the city's residential rubbish hauler, Murcole Disposal Inc., and with failure to pay income taxes.

The first videotaped payment occurred June 26, 1991, two months after Tucker was sworn in as Compton's youngest elected mayor, succeeding his father, Walter Tucker Sr., who died.

Macardican, who needed a conditional use permit to build his $250-million plant, can be seen carefully counting out $2,000 in cash and giving it to Tucker, who puts the money in his pocket.

"That plus the eight [thousand] we agreed on should secure your vote," says Macardican.

Tucker then smiles, shakes Macardican's hand and says, "We'll be friendly, definitely." On July 16, 1991, the pair met again in Macardican's inner office. With the FBI's video cameras rolling, Macardican questions whether he should have to pay then-Councilman Omar Bradley as much as the mayor.

Tucker disagrees, saying, "Everybody has one vote, and you have to make sure you have it. . . . I think I have to be modest and reasonable."

Macardican is then observed giving Tucker a purported $1,000 in cash and handing him a $1,000 check, signed by an undercover FBI agent.

After pocketing the cash and check, Tucker is heard saying, "It feels good."

On the way out, Macardican tells Tucker he will pay Bradley $2,000 a month "just like you." Tucker responds: "Great." Despite his taped comments about Bradley, Macardican said on the witness stand Friday that he never paid any money to Bradley, who is now serving as Compton's mayor.

At their next videotaped meeting in his office, Aug. 28, 1991, Macardican counts out $1,000 and gives it to Tucker, who pockets it. The businessman promises to deliver the next $1,000 "a little quicker."

The jury also heard several audio tapes of conversations between Tucker and Macardican, including another alleged payoff in which the businessman can be heard counting aloud, one through ten, presumably $100 bills, then saying, "That makes six [thousand]. So I have four [thousand] more." This, apparently, was a reference to Macardican's initial promise of $10,000 to Tucker.

More tapes are expected to be played when the trial resumes on Tuesday. Tucker's defense lawyers then will begin what is likely to be an intense cross-examination of Macardican.

In opening statements, the defense conceded that Tucker took the cash payments but said he was the victim of entrapment by an overzealous informant and undercover FBI agents.

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