Vitullo denies fixing cases

The government has to find one controversial FBI agent this weekend to satisfy a request from the judge.
CLEVELAND -- Atty. James A. Vitullo says he gave now-retired Judge Fred H. Bailey money but not to influence the outcome of criminal cases.
Vitullo testified for 3 1/2 hours Friday in U.S. District Court, defending his eight years as an assistant Mahoning County prosecutor, from 1989 to 1996. He and his cousin, Russell J. Saadey Jr., both of Austintown, are accused of being part of a racketeering enterprise that fixed cases, mostly DUIs, when Bailey served as county judge in Austintown.
Testimony in the trial, which began Oct. 2, wrapped up early Friday. Saadey, known as "Champ," who also faces tax evasion charges, did not testify.
The government has the option of putting on rebuttal witnesses before closing arguments begin Monday. The case then goes to the 10-woman, two-man jury.
Vitullo, who carried a 10-inch thick file folder of mostly DUI cases with him to the witness stand, offered explanations for each DUI the government said he fixed for Youngstown-area attorneys Jack V. Campbell, Stuart J. Banks and Lawrence J. Seidita. Vitullo explained to the jury the elements of obtaining a DUI conviction and why some are reduced to a lesser charge or dismissed.
Government witnesses: Campbell, Banks and Seidita, now convicted ex-lawyers and government witnesses, testified that they bribed Vitullo to fix cases and that he would split the money with Bailey. Vitullo denied each allegation and said the only money he took as an assistant prosecutor was his paycheck.
Bailey testified Thursday that he accepted three to four bribes from Vitullo, usually $500 each time. The payoffs took place during handshakes in the parking lot at the Austintown court, he said.
Bailey said one reason he took bribes was the expense of keeping an affair secret.
The 73-year-old retired judge said he paid the woman's rent, car payment and utilities for 17 years, roughly 1982 to 1999. She would, from time to time, come to the court to pick up the money, he said.
Explanation: When Thomas J. Gruscinski, lead prosecutor, asked Vitullo if he'd ever given money to Bailey to affect the outcome of cases, Vitullo answered "No."
When Vitullo's Columbus lawyer, E. Scott Shaw, narrowed the question, asking if his client had ever given money to Bailey, the answer was "Yes," with an explanation.
Vitullo said he contributed to Bailey's judicial campaign and gave him money when Bailey performed a marriage ceremony for a friend.
Sometimes, Vitullo said, Bailey would ask for money because of his "situation" with the woman whose rent, car payment and utilities the judge paid each month. Vitullo said he gave Bailey money on those occasions.
Throughout his time on the witness stand, Vitullo appeared calm, direct and affable. No questions from Gruscinski rattled him and, in fact, one response he gave brought smiles to jurors' faces.
Gruscinski probed Vitullo's financial situation after a dissolution of his marriage in 1993, in which his ex-wife got the house in Boardman. The prosecutor asked how the two cars -- a 1991 Honda and 1988 Pontiac -- were divided.
Grinning, Vitullo said he got the 1988 Bonneville and drove it past 200,000 miles "until it blew up."
After court, Vitullo, still clutching the thick file folder, and with his wife, Carrie, by his side, told reporters that he thought his time on the witness stand went well. Referring to the cases in the folder, Vitullo said "this is a bunch of baloney."
"I told the truth," he said.
Shaw had a comment, too, a reference to Bailey's somewhat befuddled testimony, saying that he could have probed the ex-judge much further. "You do your client no great service by beating up on a mental and moral cripple."
Controversial testimony: Judge Kathleen M. O'Malley, meanwhile, had a short session with the defense and prosecution after she released the jury Friday afternoon. The issue, which will be resolved Monday, centers on one portion of Vitullo's testimony.
Vitullo told the jury that FBI Special Agent Tony Speranza -- "who was assigned to this case" -- came into his office in the summer of 1996, posing as a DUI defendant. Speranza, Vitullo said, did not identify himself as an FBI agent and had no traffic citation to show when asked.
Vitullo said he explained how a plea of no contest would work and the penalties attached to it. Speranza, he said, asked if he should retain Campbell, Seidita or Banks. Vitullo testified that he told Speranza to find a lawyer through the bar association.
Vitullo said he didn't see Speranza again until last September, when the agent was on hand during Vitullo's arrest.
The government contends the encounter never took place because there is no record of it. The judge wants some verification, concerned if the jury heard misleading testimony.
Maridee L. Costanzo, a Warren lawyer who also represents Vitullo, told Judge O'Malley that no record doesn't mean it didn't happen. "My client says it did."
Costanzo said the FBI couldn't have been watching Speranza 24 hours a day and there wouldn't be a record if he was acting outside the scope of his duties. She said the only way to let the jury decide is to call Speranza to testify.
Bernard A. Smith, an assistant U.S. attorney, said he would try to contact Speranza this weekend, although he's no longer assigned to the Boardman bureau office.
"I will ask Speranza if he did this -- if I can find him," Smith told the judge. The prosecutor said the government is not willing to call Speranza to testify "under any circumstances."