Wright trial Friday: Closing arguments
Philadelphia City Hall and political coverage from the Philadelphia Inquirer City Hall bureau.
Wright trial Friday: Closing arguments
Jeff Shields2:41 p.m.
Bresnick had the last say in rebuttal, as the goverment always does in a criminal case. He went back to original theme, bashing a defense claim that Bresnick should have asked Ravi Chawla if he had known about Wright's free apartment. Bresnick said that after Chawla's initial answers to questions on the stand, in which Ravi contradicted his own resume, "I think you could expect nothing but lies from Mr. Chawla.”
Bresnick also rejected Bergstrom's claim that the witness stand is a "a tough place to be" for a defendant.
"It’s really not, if you tell the truth." Bresnick said.
Bresnick dismissed the idea that the government had to show that the Chawlas and Teitelman gave Wright benefits and explicitly demanded favors in return. All that needs to be shown, Bresnick said, is that the public official was being given a stream of benefits so he would be a “public official on call.”
"The problem here and the real harm in bribing a public officials, is it buys you access that the ordinary citizen wouldn’t have," Bresnick said. The ordinary citizen was sent to the back of the line for Kelly's attention when the Chawlas came calling, he said.
Bresnick finished at 2:02 p.m.
The judge is now reading the instructions to the jury, explaining the charge of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud.
The jury will be sent home at 3:30 p.m.; one of the jurors asked to leave an hour early because she has a flight to catch. The jury will return Tuesday, because the U.S. District Court is closed for President's Day on Monday.
Because the jury now does not have any alternates, the loss of any juror could result in a mistrial. If another juror was lost, the defense could agree to allow the jury to deliberate with only 11 jurors, or they could ask for a mistrial. The defense would have to calculate whether they had a better shot in a new trial, because the government is not likely to drop the case.
The only real act by Hardeep Chawla in the whole case was the $1,000 check at Christmas, which came “with no strings attached,” said Hardeep Chawla’s attorney, Bill Winning.
Winning pointed to the Chawlas’ relationship with Kelly going back to 2000, including their financial contributions to his campaigns.
“It defies common sense that Hardeep or any of these gentlemen had to bribe Chris Wright to obtain anything from Jack Kelly,” Winning said. “He helped the man get elected.”
Winning scoffed at the idea that the $1,000 was a reward for Wright’s help with a delinquent tax bill with the city, for which the Chawlas saved $13,000 in penalties.
Winning noted that a city tax lawyer said 40-50 percent of all cases are resolved by dropping the penalties if the taxpayer agrees to settle the bill immediately. Winning noted that Hardeep Chawla could have rewarded Wright a month later, when Wright asked him to use a title company that Wright was connected to, and would earn a commission for. Hardeep Chawla declined.
“This was a perfect opportunity to reward Chris Wright for his work,” Winning said.
In summary, Winning said Hardeep Chawla giving Wright a gift by check, which was entered in the company ledger and which was disclosed by Wright on public documents, is the opposite of how bribes are paid.
“Bribes are paid in brown paper bags, in the middle of the night, secret, not disclosed, don’t tell anyone,” Winning said. “[Hardeep Chawla] did it as an act of generosity, out of concern for a friend.”
Bill DeStefano, Teitelman’s attorney, acknowledged that an email from Ravi Chawla to Wright offering to hire him as a consultant “looks kind of bad, doesn’t it?”
But, DeStefano, the email meant nothing, because Wright turned down the offer, and Chawla hired someone else. DeStefano came back to the point he began the trial with, that Teitelman and Wright were best friends and nothing that Teitelman did for him was illegal.
“You don’t have to bribe your friends,” DeStefano said, adding also that you don’t have to bribe someone to do their job.
Tom Bergstrom, finishing off as Ravi Chawla’s attorney, said his client was not aware that his brother had given Wright $1,000.
Regarding a count that charges the men with defrauding the partnership who bought the apartment that Wright had moved into, Bergstrom asked why that company had not sued the Chawlas if they they thought they had been wronged. Instead, he said, they sued Wright to evict him.
“Nothing that was done here caused any harm to the people of Philadelphia or the city of Philadelphia,” Bergstrom said.
He argued that the Chawlas’ and Teitelman’s interaction with Wright was good for the city. It resulted in a bill that allows unmanned, mechanical parking garages, it helped drive up the sale price of a Philadelphia Parking Authority building to nearly $37 million -- $17 million higher than its appraised value. And the 8.5 acre River City project along JFK Boulevard near the Schuylkill River, it remains a dream to be fulfilled (it’s still owned by Ravi Chawla and a partner)
Bergstrom asked jurors to recognize “The simple humanity that was shown to Chris Wright in what was a very troubling time for him.”
Lisa Mathewson, Wright's attorney, told jurors that Wright and his codefendants would have had to understand they were violating complex ethics laws in order to be guilty.
“Ignorance of the law is an excuse," Mathewson said. "Unless they had the purpose of disobeying or disregarding the law, they are not guilty.”
Regarding Wright's repeated attempts to find buyers for Chawla properties to earn a commission as a real esate broker, Mathewson pointed out that he never made a dime -- only $3,000 that came from a title company associated with Chawla deals, that was not part of the charges against him.
"You might find a basis to criticize Mr. Wright's behavior, but you will not find a basis to convict him," Mathewson said.
Mathewson said he helped the Chawlas on matters that were important to his boss, Councilman Kelly.
"Did he do it to cheat the people of Philadelphia? He did it because it was his job to do it and because it mad the city work better.," Mathewson said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bresnick began his closing argument by jumping on Chris Wright's testimony on the stand about the $1,000 check he received from Hardeep Chawla in December 2005. Wright testified that he would not have taken the money if it was cash, but then wasn't able to answer when Bresnick asked him why.
Bresnick said the real answer was that the check was just a way "to dress it up."
"Make no mistake, ladies and gentleman, it was a bribe, pure and simple. In his stammering, his stuttering, his hemming and hawing, [Wright] did tell you that he knew the answer," Bresnick told the jury.
Bresnick called Wright the Chawlas "inside man" in City Hall, whom they went to for everything. At the same time, Wright was living rent-free in an apartment that Teitelman and Ravi Chawla helped him get into even though Chawla didn't own it, Bresnick said, and Teitelman was helping him with a variety of critical legal services on a foreclosure, divorce, and eviction.
Bresnick also berated Ravi Chawla's testimony, in which Chawla denied, against evidence to the contrary, being involved in his brother Hardeep's company, Sant Properties, and paying for Teitelman's legal fees. "Everything with him is a mistake," Bresnick said.
He then lambasted Teitelman, who acknowledged on the stand that he tried to get a message to Councilman Kelly during the trial through Kelly's acting chief of staff, John Cerrone.
"There’s Andy Teitelman, a lawyer for 24-25 years, and he’s trying to interfere with a government witness during trial," Bresnick said. "That’s what you need to know about Andy Teitelman."
Bresnick went through emails, highlighting the "language of entitlement" used by the defendants to direct Wright to do their work, who was "Bought and paid for," according to Bresnick. In conclusion, he asked the jury: "You can tell them the truth about what they did. That what they did was illegal, that they corrupted him, that he was no longer looking after the good of the city of Philadelphia, he was looking after them. "
Wright's attorney, Lisa Mathewson, has begun her closing.
Number 2 is officially NOT the lucky number for this trial. The first Juror No. 2 was dismissed Wednesday after defense counsel said she had been sleeping during trial and throwing them dirty looks. An alternate took her place as Juror No. 2.
This morning the new Juror No. 2 was dismissed, after having a "physical situation" at home and being unable to continue, Judge Robreno said. She was replaced with the only remaining alternate. The jury now has no leeway; there are 12 jurors left and no alternates.
Closing arguments are scheduled to start at 8:45 this morning in the federal bribery trial of former City Council aide Chris Wright and three businessmen.
After 11 days of testimony ending Wednesday, U. S. District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno sent the jury home Thursday while lawyers from both sides negotiated the wording of the judge's instructions to the jury.
Wright, chief of staff to Republican Councilman Jack Kelly, is accused of taking $1,000, a free apartment and free legal help from developers Hardeep Chawla and Ravinder "Ravi" Chawla and their lawyer, Andrew Teitelman. In exchange, the U.S. Attorney's Office alleges, Wright became their personal public servant..
The defense has argued that the Chawlas, friends to Kelly and among the top contributors to his campaigns in 2003 and 2007, were already important constituents who did not need to go through Wright to get to Kelly. Both Wright and Kelly testified that Wright was just doing his job.
Kelly is not accused of any wrongdoing.
The trial is now at a point that the judge and lawyers hoped to avoid - sending jurors home for a three day weekend before deliberations begin, potentially exposing them to information about the case in the media and on the Internet.
Robreno advises jurors at the end of each day to avoid reading about, listening to, or discussing anything related to the trial.
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