Tamper Tantrum

Taped conversations helped convict George Gandelman of money laundering. Now the Miamian tries an unusual appeal: Don't believe everything you hear.

Though Reveiz has never been accused of badly editing tapes, he did resign from the FBI last year in exchange for the dismissal of charges against him. The agent, as Gandelman's attorney will mention to the court at every opportunity, allegedly accepted bribes from a money launderer. The case, as the federal prosecutor will point out in turn, had nothing to do with Gandelman's.

Both Rick Raymond, an independent audio engineer, and Lenny Rabinowitz, who edits audiotapes for television commercials, take the stand to testify that they, too, noticed the "bad spot" in the Gandelman-Reveiz conversation. All three of Gandelman's expert witnesses agree that similar glitches are evident in recordings made in early December 1991 and mid-March 1992.

During a break in the hearing, Patrick White says the defense witnesses' testimony doesn't concern him, deriding them as "Radio Shack employees who have no idea what they're talking about." White promises that they will be "blown away" by his witness, Bruce Koenig, the special agent who heads the FBI's audiotape forensic analysis group, based in Washington, D.C.

In his cross-examination, White devotes far less attention to the experts' analysis than to their backgrounds. Thomas, Raymond, and Rabinowitz all admit under questioning that they never studied "forensic tape analysis," never learned several established methods for authenticating tape recordings, never published any articles on the subject, and never -- until now -- testified in court.

Koenig, by contrast, has done all of those things during his 24-year career with the FBI. The agent exudes relaxed professionalism while testifying, perhaps because he's also done that before A some 230 times by his count. Over the course of his career he has worked on more than 3600 cases involving forensic audio or video analysis and examined more than 9000 tapes.

Koenig tells Magistrate Johnson that while the FBI does employ computer-generated wave-form graphs, such a test is just one of several the bureau performs in order to determine whether a tape is an original or a copy. He mentions "narrow band spectro-analysis" and cites other, simpler methods, such as a physical inspection of the tape to search for visible splices. (Although the defense witnesses were not permitted to actually handle the original tapes -- they worked from exact digital reproductions -- prosecutor White suggests that they could have performed a "physical" test with a special machine that would guard against damage.)

Not only did Gandelman's experts fail to perform vital tests, Koenig goes on to argue, but their wave-form analysis is inadequate. In order to make an edit visible, he explains, the graphs would require at least double the resolution provided by the witnesses' computer software. "This program may be fine in a recording studio," he remarks graciously. "But for any kind of scientific analysis, it's useless."

So sure is Koenig of his counterparts' incompetence, in fact, that he did not bother analyzing the tapes himself. He hasn't even glanced at them. There is no need, he tells Magistrate Johnson; in spite of their claims, Gandelman's witnesses have turned up nothing that suggests there was any tampering.

With little hope of cornering Koenig on specific technical issues, Sands concentrates instead on implying that because Koenig is a federal agent, he cannot be trusted to be unbiased when his colleagues are being accused. When the testimony is finished, Sands will admit that to suggest that the FBI protects its own might not go over well with a federal magistrate. "As a former federal prosecutor, I'm not inclined to believe this kind of thing can happen," he concedes. "But I'm now convinced it did happen."

The missing tape fragments, counters Patrick White, are simply figments of George Gandelman's overactive imagination. "I think [Gandelman] has convinced himself with all this glitter and gold that he's not guilty," White says while awaiting Magistrate Johnson's decision. "He and his attorney came in here and put on a dog-and-pony show to try to impress the court the way they impressed themselves. But analyzing government tapes is not the same as making recordings of the Bee Gees."

So why didn't the government analyze its own tapes to clear up the matter for the court? "There is a minimum threshold that must be met before the government decides to spend a lot of money running a lot of expensive tests," White answers. "In this case it was not met." Gandelman, the prosecutor adds, was convicted by what he said on the tapes, not by what he didn't say. "I mean, we have a conversation where cocaine is mentioned," White boasts. "We've got him explaining exactly how to launder money with bearer bonds. If worst comes to worst and we have to try him again, we'll convict him in a week."

Not surprisingly, Sands disagrees. "Once we prove that any tape recording has been altered, we draw the reliability of all the government's tapes into question," he comments. "That evidence won't be admitted in the next trial. And a jury will have to decide George's fate without it."

As it turns out, neither attorney finds reason to gloat. In what Sands characterizes as "a Solomon-like decision," Magistrate Johnson instructs the defense and the government to choose one tape each. The government's pick will be tested by the FBI; Gandelman and Sands's choice can be analyzed by any independent audio expert they desire, provided the government preapproves that person's credentials. Both sides will report their findings at another hearing, scheduled for July 6.

Until then Gandelman remains free on bond.

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