The Lying Witness, the Dank Cellar, and the Dingy Coffee Shop

William Weld famously won 109 out of the 111 cases his office prosecuted when he was US Attorney for Massachusetts. I am quite proud to be one of the two blemishes on his career. All it took was overzealous prosecutors, unscrupulous federal agents, a lying witness (hardly unusual in federal criminal trials), and the basement of a dingy coffee shop.

In 1981, Bill Weld, a blue-blooded, Harvard educated Mayflower descendant became US Attorney for Massachusetts. When Weld assumed his office, a number of high profile political corruption cases recently had splashed across the Boston Globe’s pages; Weld saw official corruption as his primary target, both because of its seeming ubiquity and, I suspect, due to the utility which prosecuting such cases might have on a nascent political career.

Weld wanted to fry a big fish, and it seemed that he had the perfect target: then-Mayor of Boston Kevin Hagan White. There was only one problem: White seemed cleaner than Caesar’s wife! So Weld did the next best thing—he would start at low level corruption, and eventually work his way up to the boss.

Weld started with a bureaucrat in the Boston Redevelopment Authority named George Collatos. In 1982, Collatos was caught in a tape-recorded sting attempting to extort $45,000 from a contractor. Fearing three years in federal prison, Collatos jumped at a deal; he would have his sentence reduced if he would testify to who higher up in city government was involved in the extortion. Collatos was to be the first domino in a line leading straight to the Mayor’s Office. 

Collatos was not close enough to Mayor White to claim that he knew first-hand of any of the mayor’s suspected wrongdoings; instead, Collatos focused his testimony on the man who would become my client: Theodore “Teddy” Anzalone, a confidant, fundraiser, and friend of the Mayor. Collatos claimed that Anzalone, acting for the mayor, solicited an $8,000 cash bribe from the C.E. Maguire Company of Providence, a company with contracts to provide engineering services to the massive rebuilding projects undertaken at the time by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Weld’s strategy here was clear: if he could get Anzalone through Collatos, he could get White through Anzalone.

Having been turned onto Anzalone by Collatos, Weld searched hither and yon for something prosecutable. He settled on three charges. The first was the $8,000 extortion charge, the second was a money laundering charge involving a birthday party for the mayor’s wife, and the third was a money laundering charge involving the transfer of $100,000 cash. Taken together, Weld thought, the charges represented a clear conspiracy to hide money that was, itself, ill-gotten through extortionate activities on behalf of the mayor. Never mind that they did not have a clear linkage between the alleged extortion money and the laundering: Weld’s thought was that the jury would make that link on its own.

As Anzalone’s attorneys, Nancy Gertner and I recognized that the link between the money laundering and extortion charges was tenuous at best. After some initial hesitation, the trial judge, the late A. David Mazzone, agreed, and granted Anzalone’s motion to separate the trial of extortion from the money-laundering. In this way, the jurors would not create any unsubstantiated link between the sets of charges.

The money-laundering trial came first. Anzalone was acquitted on the charge attached to the Mayor’s wife’s birthday party—the evidence was, simply, thin—but convicted on the charge attached to the moving of $100,000. Anzalone had broken up the cash into increments of less than $10,000; in doing so, the bank did not have to report the transactions under then-applicable federal currency regulations, Gertner and I argued. While Anzalone had no obligation to report his bank transactions to the Department of the Treasury, and the bank had no obligation to report any transaction of less than $10,000, the judge reasoned, quite incorrectly it turned out, that Anzalone’s breaking up of the transactions represented an act that forced the bank to fail in its legal duty of reporting large cash transactions. Anzalone’s supposed obligation to facilitate the bank’s filing of a “CTR” report was woven by the judge out of wholecloth. 

Anzalone’s sentence was stayed while Gertner and I worked on his appeal. Meanwhile, the government thought it had its golden opportunity to turn him into a witness against Mayor White: it moved along quickly with the extortion trial. The extortion trial, remember, hinged on the testimony of the extortionist-turned-government-witness Collatos. If the jury believed Collatos, Anzalone could face more federal prison time. Lucky for the defense, though, extortion is an intoxicating drug, and Collatos was not about to quit. 

A few months before the trial was to commence, Anzalone reported a remarkable story to me. He said that Collatos had invited him out for coffee at La Bella’s Coffee House, a place whose outstanding feature was the easily noticeable grime on the floor, table, seats, and walls. It was a place where, as I once told a reporter, after you ate there, “you wanted to wash [not only] your hands after you left but also your feet.” In the hardly “Bella” surroundings, Collatos threatened Anzalone: Collatos would either testify to Anzalone’s guilt at the upcoming extortion trial, despite knowing that he was completely innocent, or, if paid $200,000 by the mayor through Anzalone, Collatos would testify truthfully. 

Anzalone, ever the intelligent client, said that he would think about it, and rushed over to my office, located nearby in the North End/Waterfront neighborhood, to report Collatos’s threat. 

I realized immediately and instinctively that Gertner and I suddenly had a golden opportunity to destroy the government’s case. If we could somehow prove that Collatos was trying to extort Anzalone—and that he was asking to be bribed only to tell the truth—we knew that the government’s case would completely implode. The only problem was how to prove Collatos’s actions. We couldn’t make Anzalone wear a wire: in Massachusetts, it is illegal to surreptitiously record somebody’s voice without his or her consent or a court order. And we couldn’t ask for Anzalone simply to testify to Collatos’s actions: it would be one alleged extortionist’s word against another’s. So I hatched a different kind of plan. 

Anzalone had a longtime relationship with LaBella’s owner Emilio Cuchiella, better known as Bobby LaBella; we came up with a way to utilize the friendly turf to our advantage. We reasoned that while it was illegal to tape-record someone’s voice, it was not illegal in the least to take notes on what someone was saying. 

Beneath the table at which Anzalone and Collatos would be sitting was a trap door leading to the LaBella basement. The cellar made the dingy restaurant look like the Ritz Carleton after a day’s cleaning; the dust, noxious air, and close quarters
were enough to make anyone queasy. We secreted into that cramped space my research assistant, Tom Viles (now a successful litigation attorney at a nationally-known firm); John Wall, a former Justice Department prosecutor who was then in private practice (who has since died – a great loss to the Boston legal community); and a court stenographer, who had no idea what was ahead of her—she wore a cocktail dress in anticipation of a meeting in a cafe. 

We arrived at 7 o’clock, an hour before the meeting was to take place. The five of us set up the basement listening post, and after a quick test run, I left. The stenographer, on seeing the basement, became immediately nervous. After a few minutes in those cramped, dusty, hot quarters, she hit her head, saw a mouse, and stormed out so quickly she left behind her steno machine. It was up to Wall and Viles to take notes. 

At the appointed time, Collatos arrived at the coffee shop and met with Anzalone. Like the script to a bad movie, Collatos engaged in detailed exposition, once again reiterating the extortion plot, the 200,000 dollars, and his ultimate knowledge of Anzalone’s innocence. Collatos had even concocted a method for Mayor White to transfer the $200,000 to Collatos in a manner that would not cause undue suspicion – White could buy a worthless nag of a retired race horse from Collatos for the princely sum. Viles and Wall dutifully took notes, hearing every word from their dank and dusty quarters. Anzalone turned down the deal and left the coffee shop. Viles and Wall waited until the coast was clear, and left the shop for well-deserved showers. 

So what did Gertner and I do with our case shattering evidence? We sat on it. If we would have turned it over to the prosecution, it would have given them a chance to change the theory of the case; we wanted them to stay focused on Collatos, still believing him to be a star witness. 

And star witness he was – just not for the prosecution. When Collatos took the witness stand, he laid out a well-rehearsed story about Anzalone’s extortion plot. During cross examination, however, Gertner, a superb cross-examiner, caught him off guard : 

Gertner: Directing your attention now to a meeting — to April 27, 1984, between eight and nine p.m. — do you remember being in LaBella's Coffee Shop on that evening?

Collatos: No, I do not.
Gertner: Do you remember saying to Ted Anzalone, "I am in your corner, but I need some help"? Do you remember anything like that?
Collatos: No, I do not.

Gertner: Do you remember Ted Anzalone saying to you, "George, if you tell the truth, I'll be fine"?
Collatos: I don't recall that conversation at all.
Gertner: Do you remember telling Ted Anzalone on April 27th that you know that Anzalone did not threaten or promise Slocum anything? Do you remember that?
Collatos: I don't recall that conversation at all.
Gertner: Do you remember saying to Anzalone that "I am not going to hang for that, I'm not going to do it. On my daughters, I'd go to jail for them, but no one else. I want money." Do you remember saying that?
Collatos: That's not even my way of talking. No, I never said that.
Gertner: It's not your way of talking?
Collatos: I never said anything like that.
Gertner: Do you remember saying — I'll clean up the language a bit — "I'll lie. I don't give a f___ about him, the mayor"? Do you remember saying that?
Collatos: No, I don't.
Gertner: Do you remember saying, "I'm going to tell the truth, but if I have to answer a certain way I'm going to tell them what they want to hear"? Do you remember that?
Collatos: No, I don't.
Gertner: Do you recall saying, "You better make that man understand that if you have to punch him in the nose — tell him to go to jail one night — he'll understand"? Do you remember saying that?
Collatos: No, I don't ever remember saying anything like that.
Gertner: Do you remember saying, "____ the mayor. Let him burn"? Any words like that?
Collatos: Sorry, I don't recall anything like that.
Gertner: We are talking about an April 27th meeting at LaBella's Coffee Shop between 8 and 9 p.m.
The court: Do you have any memory at all of that specific meeting between 8 and 9 p.m. on the 27th of April?
Collatos: No, I don't.

Collatos was caught and, despite his attempts to play dumb, he must have known it. The prosecution and the judge were a little more confused; after the initial line of questioning, due to a technical trial rule, Gertner and I were required by the judge to indicate to him, at a hushed conference held at the side-bar of the judge’s bench outside the jurors’ earshot, the factual and legal basis for the cross-examination. We described to the judge and the prosecution the whole sordid affair at LaBella’s—the threats, the basement, everything.

The prosecutors erupted in outrage and anger. After all, here it was the defense that had engineered a sting, a tactic normally left for the prosecution team. They tried to argue that the judge should exclude this evidence from the jury’s knowledge. They argued surprise. In reality, they must have known it was a lost cause, as Gertner and I had no legal or ethical obligation to report to them Collatos’s attempted extortion of Anzalone as soon as it happened. We had merely given the feds a taste of their own medicine. 

Not to be outdone, the prosecution had one more chance at making their case: they could intimidate Viles and Wall—the two witnesses to Collatos’s testi-lying. To make their point, federal agents paid Viles a late-night visit at his girlfriend’s house, and implied that he was now under investigation for a number of crimes, including misprision of a felony, a statutory crime for failing to report a witnessed felony to the authorities. They made a similar visit to Wall. 

To Wall’s credit, the former DOJ prosecutor was not dissuaded from testifying: he took to the stand and described the LaBella incident. (We spared the paralegal this ugly task.) The prosecution’s case utterly destroyed, the jury acquitted. 

We were left only with the matter of the money laundering charge. Gertner and I reasoned in the Court of Appeals that a citizen does not have an obligation to conduct business in such a way as to maximize legal duties; he only has an obligation to do what the law, as it then stands, requires. In other words, Anzalone was under no obligation to report to the government how he was dividing up his deposits, so long as he was following the letter of the law when he did it. 
The appellate court agreedwith us. In a unanimous decision on July 1st, 1985, they reversed the conviction. 

In the end, though, when fighting against the federal government, nearly all victories become at least partially Pyrrhic. Kevin White was not indicted, but the fight to take him down convinced him to forego another run for mayor. He left office to take a job at Boston University. Anzalone, while vindicated in the eyes of the law, had to give up lawyering after FBI agents visited nearly every one of his clients in the course of the investigation; he took a job maintaining buildings owned or managed by his wife. And as for William Weld, despite his failure to get White, the media still portrayed him as a “crusading prosecutor.” He won the Massachusetts governorship in 1990, and was reelected four years later.

But Weld’s quixotic attempt to gain the Republican presidential nomination failed, and he retreated to a lucrative practice in law and investments in New York. One of the prosecutors – Mark Wolf – went on to become a judge (later the Chief Judge) on the federal district court in Boston, while another – Robert Cordy – sits on the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Gertner served for 14 years on the federal district court bench during which she enjoyed a comfortable relationship with Judge Wolf. (She left the federal bench in 2011 and took a position on the Harvard Law School faculty.) Gertner and I get together occasionally at a café (LaBella’s has long since disappeared from the landscape) to discuss this and that, but it’s hard each time not to remember how the Anzalone prosecution was wrecked by a dose of truth about the quality (or lack thereof) of the government’s chief witness.