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Win at all costs
Written by Bill Moushey Part 5 of 10

Selling lies (cont.)

Jumping lessons

Richard Diaz, a former Miami police officer turned defense lawyer, said he has seen firsthand how "jump on the bus" scams work.

As an example, he cited the case against Magluta and Falcone, two men who were charged in the largest cocaine smuggling case to be brought in South Florida. Diaz, who worked on a related case, said federal agents and prosecutors were offering deals throughout the South Florida penal system to anyone who would testify against Magluta and Falcone.

Jurors, however, acquitted the two men because the jurors said they didn’t believe much of the testimony, even though the jury foreman has now been accused of accepting a $500,000 bribe to fix the case.

Diaz and others said the government offered the same types of inducements to anyone who could testify against Noriega. "It was common knowledge in the south Florida jails that anyone who had information to provide regarding General Noriega would be looked upon very favorably," said Frank Rubino, one of the cadre of lawyers who represented Noriega in his drug case, which ended with a conviction and 20-year prison term.

Abundant sources

To convicts, the information comes from a variety of sources.

With help, some secure evidence, transcripts, indictments and other materials from cases then memorize that information before approaching a prosecutor willing to make a deal.

Some get together with informants looking for others to corroborate their testimony.

Others simply make it up.

In many cases, prosecutors help the convicts along by telling potential witnesses precisely what they want to hear if the inmate expects to get a deal, Diaz said. Informers quickly pick up on the basic facts. "If I did something like that, I could lose my [law license]," Diaz said. "It’s like putting the cheese in front of the rat."

One way to curtail "jump on the bus" schemes would be to administer polygraph tests to all witnesses. Justice Department rules require polygraph tests for witnesses who are promised leniency, but defense attorneys say they are seldom given.

Even though lawyers and inmates have alerted federal prosecutors and agents about schemes related to "jump on the bus," very little has been done. Diaz said that if the government acknowledged these abuses of the system, a large body of cases would end up being reversed.

"It is easy to take the position that they don’t know anything about this," he said. "It is easy to turn the cheek and deliberately look away from it."

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