Jurors might have wondered Thursday who was on trial in federal Judge Consuelo B. Marshall's Los Angeles courtroom.
Was it U.S. Rep. Walter R. Tucker III, who stands accused of extorting bribes from businesses while serving as mayor of Compton, or was it the U.S. attorney's office, which brought the charges against the two-term Democratic congressman?
In closing arguments to the jury, the government portrayed Tucker as a corrupt politician who betrayed a sworn trust, and the defense characterized him as the victim of illegal entrapment by the FBI and a vengeful, manipulative informant.
Assistant U.S. Atty. John M. Potter told the jurors that Tucker "sold out his office and his constituents by literally taking thousands of dollars in cash in back rooms."
"But fortunately," he added, "there were cameras and microphones in those back rooms and the defendant's corrupt actions have been exposed."
Indicted after a three-year FBI investigation of official corruption in Compton, Tucker was captured on concealed videotapes and audiotapes accepting $30,000 from businessman-turned-informant John Macardican in 1991 and 1992.
The government contends that the money was in exchange for Tucker's promise to support a Macardican proposal to construct a $250-million waste-to-energy conversion plant in Compton.
Tucker has testified that the money was for consulting fees and a loan.
But his defense team also contends that he was the victim of government misconduct.
In his closing argument, defense attorney Robert Ramsey Jr. castigated the FBI and Macardican, a 57-year-old businessman who was outfitted with a concealed recorder and installed in an office equipped with hidden cameras.
He described Macardican as a "shrewd and street-savvy businessman" who manipulated his taped conversations with Tucker to give the appearance that they were talking about trading money for votes.
An entirely different portrait was drawn by Potter, hailing Macardican as a responsible citizen who agreed to work undercover for the FBI because "he believed corruption was wrong and he tried to do something about it."
He did it "at considerable personal sacrifice," Potter said. "John Macardican was able to obtain evidence proving conclusively that the mayor of Compton was a corrupt politician."
He criticized Ramsey for questioning Macardican's motives and accused the defense lawyer of stooping low with an insinuation during cross-examination that Macardican was unfaithful to his wife of 35 years.
Potter said it was Tucker who initiated the first discussion of illegal conduct when he allegedly advised Macardican on how to launder campaign contributions to political candidates when the two met for lunch on May 30, 1991. The conversation was secretly recorded.
And when Macardican asked if it was advisable to give cash to candidates, Potter said, Tucker told him to decide that "on a case-by-case basis" after determining what each candidate would find "comfortable."
"The first piece of advice that the mayor of Compton gave to John Macardican was to violate the law," Potter said.
In his argument, however, Ramsey said that Macardican violated instructions given to him by the FBI to follow Tucker's lead and not raise the subject of money.
He said Macardican was the first one to bring up the subject during their lunch and that when confronted during cross-examination, he responded by saying: "Whoops, I guess I slipped."
Citing the judicial standard of reasonable doubt, Ramsey called Macardican "one of the biggest reasonable doubts in this case."
He also accused the FBI of having tried to "get" Compton politicians since the mid-1980s. "They wanted a big fish," Ramsey said. "The mayor of Compton wasn't big enough. They waited until he was elected to Congress before indicting him," questioning why the government did not charge Tucker in 1991 or 1992 when the alleged extortion occurred. Tucker went to Congress in 1993.
The government, he said, set up and scripted all the secretly taped meetings that Tucker had with Macardican and undercover FBI Agent Robert Kilbane, who was posing as Macardican's financier.
"They set up the meetings. They knew what they wanted to get," Ramsey said. "They orchestrated this whole thing."
Ramsey outlined a two-pronged defense: first, that Tucker was the victim of illegal entrapment by the government, and second, that there is no evidence he agreed to perform any official act in return for his vote.
But Potter argued that there was considerable evidence showing that Tucker willingly sold his vote for money. Playing portions of the FBI audiotapes and videotapes, he pointed out that Tucker responded affirmatively at several meetings when told he was being paid for his vote or some official action.
He also scoffed at Tucker's claim that Macardican hired him to provide consulting services when the pair met for lunch in May, 1991.