Federal prosecutors charged former Michigan basketball standout Chris Webber Friday with three new counts of lying to a federal grand jury.
The first indictment of Webber, issued Sept. 9, charged that he, his father and aunt tried to mislead a federal grand jury in August 2000 about cash and gifts he allegedly received from banned Michigan basketball booster Ed Martin. The original indictment did not include a written transcript of the false statements in question. This lack of evidence prompted Steve Fishman of Detroit, Webber’s attorney, to file for a dismissal of the case.
The government “filed the superceding indictment because their original indictment was clearly legally insufficient,” Fishman told The Michigan Daily.
The second indictment includes a partial transcript of Webber’s answers to more than 50 questions in which the prosecutors accuse Webber of making false statements. Fishman said “there is no doubt” that the government issued the second indictment to ensure that the case will not be dismissed at the scheduled Feb. 5 hearing with U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds.
“The only thing that is new (about the latest indictment) is that now, at the eleventh hour, faced with the imminent dismissal of the original indictment, the government has decided to comply with the requirement that it set forth the specific statements that it claims to be false,” Fishman said.
Fishman said that the Feb. 5 hearing will still take place, but he is sure that the case will not be dismissed. Webber’s trial is set to begin in July after his duties with the NBA’s Sacramento Kings are finished. Fishman also said he will likely file another dismissal request of the latest indictment.
Fishman, a former Michigan basketball player (1967-70), questioned why the government would not have introduced the partial transcript in the original indictment.
“Since the indictment was clearly insufficient, under federal case law, they either had to have done it deliberately or been deliberately ignorant,” he said. “Take your pick.”
U.S. District Attorney Rick Convertino interviewed Webber in August 2000 as a witness in the investigation of Martin to uncover how much money Martin was making from an illegal lottery in Detroit-area auto plants. This past May, Martin pleaded guilty to charges that he used the proceeds from his illegal lottery to give cash and other benefits totaling $616,000 to four former University basketball players. Martin allegedly gave Webber $280,000 in cash and gifts from 1988-93, which include his two years at the University.
The government charges in the new indictment that Webber lied by denying that he received gifts from Martin during these years – gifts which included jewelry, clothing, a stereo and a medical procedure for Webber’s girlfriend at the time.
Webber repeatedly responded to Convertino’s questions by saying “I don’t recall. I don’t believe so.”
The indictment also states that Webber lied by denying that Martin helped him pay his apartment rent at Signature Villas during his sophomore year at the University. Webber said that Martin co-signed the apartment, but it was not his intention for Martin to pay his rent. Webber insisted that it was his scholarship check that paid the rent, along with some help from his roommate.
The prosecution’s final charge is that Webber lied by saying he “didn’t know” whether he repaid any of the money Martin gave him after Webber left the University. The new indictment states that Webber repaid Martin “a significant sum of money.”
As Fishman said in his request for dismissal of the case, he does not agree with the method of questioning used by the prosecution with Webber. Fishman alleged that the government had certain documents they could have showed Webber to help him refresh his memory.
Fishman is asking the judge to dismiss the case based on “reasonable likelihood of vindictiveness of prosecution.”
“Webber was subpoenaed there as a witness, not a target,” Fishman said. “Refresh his memory. It’s been 10 years.”
“It quickly became apparent that regardless of his conversations with his agent, Mr. Webber was unsure as to the nature and purpose of a grand jury proceeding,” Fishman said in his motion for dismissal.