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Geri Spieler

Geri Spieler

Posted March 25, 2009 | 10:28 PM (EST)

Bernie, we hardly knew ya



I would not dare to say Bernard Madoff will have the last laugh? However, he may pull a clever trick by pleading "not guilty."
In true Madoff style, he's created a formidable and expensive challenge for the prosecution's task of investigating the sources of his Ponzi Empire.
One could say Maddoff pulled a "Sara Jane Moore."
Moore is the woman who shot at President Gerald Ford in 1975 in San Francisco in front of the St. Francis Hotel. She plead guilty, much to the frustration of her attorney, James Hewitt, and District Court Judge Samuel Conti. They tried in vain to keep Moore from using the guilty plea but in pure Sara Jane style, she wouldn't budge.
Hewitt argued with Moore that if she went to trial she might get a lesser sentence or possibly a hung jury. He suggested she might also get an assault charge since she missed hitting Ford. At the time an assault charge carried a maximum sentence of ten years or a fine of $10,000 or both.
But Moore was emphatic in her rejection of an insanity plea or anything remotely related to imply she was not in control of her actions. No amount of counseling by Hewitt or Conti would change her mind. She claimed Hewitt had all the facts of her case, at least those that Moore would admit to. She told Hewitt and Conti repeatedly she acted alone---at least on that day.
Pleading guilty to high profile crimes is where Moore and Madoff intersect.
As part of the research I conducted while writing my book about Moore, "Taking Aim At The President," I learned a guilty plea can --and sometimes does--inhibit the prosecutions ability to perform discovery of the case.
According to my legal sources, if the court can show there is enough evidence to look further, then an investigation may go forward anyway with a guilty plea.
And, here we have an additional intersect between Moore and Madoff: They both claimed to be acting alone. It is not unusual for criminals pleading guilty to try and protect the people that helped them along the way, whether it was in making billions or conspiracy to murder.
Trouble in the courts
In the case of Moore vs. The United States of America, a conundrum for US Attorney, F. Steele Langford was the theory that Sara Jane Moore had not acted alone. In fact, Langford believed a radical organization Moore had affiliated with, Tribal Thumb, was responsible for hatching the plan to shoot Ford. Steele is quoted in the New York Times as saying that under other circumstances the court may have pursued this lead.
The other circumstances he was talking about were a full trial. That Steele did not pursue such a lead was due to the 1970's angry mood of the country at the time. Ford had just pardoned Nixon, we had recently left Viet Nam, the Symbionese Liberation Army had kidnapped Patti Hearst, and the various radical organizations such as the New World Liberation Front were bombing government buildings.
In the case of Bernie Madoff, the prosecution is primed and ready to go after a potentially long list of Madoff's associates. The list reaches far beyond family members. Those he may be protecting are the same people who are charged with investigating him; the Securities and Exchange Commission.
A 1999 letter to the SEC accused Madoff of running a Ponzi scheme, yet nothing happened.
The US Attorney is working overtime trying to infiltrate the elephantine investment properties and holdings of Madoff. That the US Attorney will have better luck in conducting a thorough investigation remains unknown?
Bernie Madoff and Sara Jane Moore. An unlikely pair dancing the same waltz----Pleading guilty and protecting their cohorts.
We hardly know them.

Geri Spieler is the author of, Taking Aim At The President: The Remarkable Story of the Woman Who Shot At Gerald Ford.