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Espy trial starts Thursday

By Terry Frieden/CNN

WASHINGTON (September 30) -- Former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy goes on trial in Washington Thursday on 38 counts of illegally accepting gifts from businesses regulated by his department.

Lawyers said the trial could take six to eight weeks.

Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz charged Espy with accepting thousands of dollars in gifts from Tyson's Foods, Sun Diamond Growers, Quaker Oats, and other agricultural firms while he was Secretary of Agriculture.

Prosecutors said they have 100 witnesses available, but they expect far fewer to actually take the stand. "We'll make tactical decisions about that as the trial proceeds," said one prosecutor who asked not to be identified.

Prosecutors said they would present a substantial amount of documentary evidence, which prompted U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina to move the case to the "electronic courtroom" on the fourth floor of the federal courthouse. The courtroom has facilities for the judge, jurors, lawyers and spectators to easily see the documentary evidence.

Veteran defense counsel Reid Weingarten heads the legal team representing Espy. One attorney familiar with the case said the two sides are communicating, and although he refused to completely rule out a plea bargain agreement, he said, "I'm not looking for it".

Smaltz was appointed independent counsel in the case following a recommendation by Attorney General Janet Reno. But Smaltz has frequently found himself at odds with the Justice Department during his attempts to expand the scope of his investigation.


Panel says no to expanded Espy probe (6-12-98)

Judges dismisses four charges against Espy (12-16-97)

Espy pleads not guilty (9-10-97)

Former Agriculture Secretary Espy indicted (8-27-97)


Department of Agriculture


Wednesday, September 30, 1998

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