Fraud case is laid out as sheriff trial opens: NYC

By Brian Harmon Daily News Staff Writer
March 20, 2001, Tuesday Sports Final Edition
Copyright 2001 Daily News, L.P.
Daily News (New York)
March 20, 2001, Tuesday Sports Final Edition

(NEW YORK) -- In a monotonous, two-hour opening statement that left some jurors sleepy-eyed yesterday, Suffolk Assistant District Attorney William Ferris kicked off the criminal trial of Sheriff Patrick Mahoney. Mahoney, and retired Undersheriff Edward Morris - his top assistant and campaign manager for nine years - are jointly charged with 90 counts of fraud.

They allegedly transformed Mahoney's public office into a campaign headquarters for his reelection bids.

One front-row juror appeared to nod off for minutes at a time during Ferris' opening statement. And yawning seemed contagious among the 12 jurors and six alternates.

Defense attorneys' opening statements today are expected to take about an hour.

Mahoney, whose most serious charge is defrauding the government, faces up to four years in jail if convicted.

Morris faces more numerous and more serious charges, including bribery, filing false documents and failing to disclose election-related income. He faces 20 years behind bars if convicted.

The defendants contend District Attorney James Catterson has a political vendetta against Mahoney.

Catterson and Mahoney have feuded since 1993, when they accused each other of trying to exploit Katie Beers, the Mastic girl kidnapped and held prisoner underground for 15 days.

After the indictments were read, Ferris - whose case is expected to take two months - spent more than an hour detailing each charge.

"It's a lot of mumbo jumbo," said Morris, who is named in 89 counts. "I hope the jury thinks the same thing."

Mahoney, Suffolk's sheriff since 1990, said Catterson should have taken his office off the case and used a special prosecutor.

"If he were sincere at wanting to get out the truth, he would have recused himself from the investigation because of our relationship," said Mahoney, who was named in 55 counts.

Ferris told jurors the prosecution will prove that Morris bullied sheriff's employees into contributing campaign dollars in exchange for plum work assignments.

Ferris also said items valued at $16,000 were taken from the Suffolk County Sheriff's Benevolent Fund, raffled off at fund-raisers and given to the Friends of Patrick Mahoney reelection committee.

The prosecution says a main piece of evidence, seized from Mahoney's executive offices, is a computer with campaign contribution records.

The key witness for the district attorney's case will be Bill Posch, a sheriff's aide who Ferris said monitored the donations on the computer. Ferris labeled Posch an accomplice to Mahoney and Morris, but Posch gained immunity from prosecution last summer when he agreed to testify at the grand jury proceedings.

Prosecution witnesses could number more than 100. 

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