By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Judge Dean's courtroom was packed, but Joe Gersten himself was noticeably absent. That appears to be the wisest move he made that day. Not only did prosecutors deny they were trying to trap Gersten, they revealed that Richey, in a private meeting, said Gersten had a drug problem.
Press accounts of the courtroom testimony, however, raised more questions than answers, especially when attorneys and witnesses referred to Gersten's "problem." The first reference to this mysterious "problem" arose when Richard Shiffrin, representing the State Attorney's Office, was questioning attorney William Richey about a meeting he had with prosecutor Gregorie and investigator Havens on May 21, 1992.
SHIFFRIN: You said the State wanted something and you wanted something.
RICHEY: Yes, sir.
SHIFFRIN: Wasn't what you wanted is for this thing to sort of maybe go away?
RICHEY: That is an understatement.
SHIFFRIN: And didn't you express to the State the idea that you A your client's family was concerned with your client's problem?
RICHEY: Yes, sir.
SHIFFRIN: And that if your client would enter some kind of program, that maybe this whole thing would go away?
RICHEY: That was part of the larger discussion that I had with the State.
Shiffrin then questioned investigator George Ray Havens, and again the unexplained "problem" surfaced.
SHIFFRIN: Who first broached the subject about Mr. Gersten coming in?
HAVENS: Mr. Richey.
SHIFFRIN: And how was that raised?
HAVENS: Mr. Richey advised me that the family and friends of Mr. Gersten were very concerned about his behavior and that Mr. Richey wanted to know what the State of Florida's position would be if his client comes in and admits that he has a problem, admits that he needs to have counseling and/or rehabilitation and agrees to go into a program A what was the State of Florida's position on sentencing?
Veteran prosecutor Richard Gregorie then took the stand. His sworn testimony was elicited by defense attorney Sharpstein.
SHARPSTEIN: The situation involving Mr. Gersten, was it your purpose to give him immunity and call him in to give a sworn statement?
SHARPSTEIN: Certainly that option existed at some time, isn't that right?
GREGORIE: I had not thought about that at all. His lawyer came in and was trying to plea bargain for him and I A I answered in response to his lawyer's telling me that he thought that his client had a problem, that the man was sick, he needed help, and that he wanted to resolve this thing so that he could get him some help, and he wanted to know how we would do that .... A few minutes later this exchange took place:
SHARPSTEIN: You and Mr. Havens told Mr. Richey that you believed Mr. Gersten had a problem, that he used crack in that crackhouse and things of that nature?"
GREGORIE: That is ridiculous. We would have never said something like that. He came in and suggested to us that his client had a problem. He told us his family was worried about it. He told us that his investigators had investigated it and he was telling us. We were shocked. We were sitting there amazed that Mr. Richey said it, but Mr. Richey came in and I believe he repeated it in a second meeting in Janet Reno's office.
Today none of the parties involved in that court hearing will comment as to the meaning of Gersten's alleged "problem," and until now, local news organizations have provided no explanation. But the answer is available in the full transcripts of the hearing.
Prior to William Richey's cross-examination by Richard Shiffrin of the State Attorney's Office, Shiffrin called for a "sidebar" conference, a private discussion with defense attorney Sharpstein and Judge Dean that courtroom spectators could not hear.
SHIFFRIN: It is my understanding that this meeting [among Richey, Gregorie, and Havens] took place at the insistence of Mr. Richey, that Mr. Richey came in and said that his client has a problem, that his family is very concerned about his problem, that in return for his entering some kind of program would we consider a voluntary statement on the part of his client, and we said, "We will think about a voluntary statement, but it has to be under oath." And his problem was a drug problem and that was the whole context of these remarks. That is what I intend to ask Mr. Richey about.
SHARPSTEIN: Well, I am not too sure that is exactly as I understand the context, or A
JUDGE DEAN: Or Mr. Richey will answer it.
SHARPSTEIN: A or that he will answer it.
JUDGE DEAN: I guess he wants you to know beforehand.
SHARPSTEIN: I understand. Thank you, Mr. Shiffrin. I believe during the course of this meeting there were some discussions about how this case can be worked out short of a A and a drug program was brought up. Now, I am not too sure if Mr. Richey overtly came in and threw that card on the table or whether that became the desire of the State Attorney's Office.
SHIFFRIN: It certainly wasn't the State's. I'm sorry.
Once outside the courtroom, Richey and Sharpstein seemed to scramble for spin control. Surrounded by reporters, Richey A no longer under oath A appeared to deny the very statements he had made only moments earlier. There was no plea offer, he said. He also denied saying Gersten's family was concerned about any alleged "problem."