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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Perhaps the jurors were nodding off from hypothermia; the courthouse is as cold as a meat locker.

Accused VIPD Cop Stuns Courtroom in Day Four of Extortion Retrial

In a shocking twist to an already tangled trial, one of two V.I. police officers being retried on extortion and money-laundering charges took the stand in his own defense in District Court Thursday, denying he ever gave statements that two federal agents have testified to and denying he accepted a bribe—one he was shown taking in video footage presented to the jury.

VIPD Sgt. George Greene is accused of accepting a $5,000 payoff from Richard Motta, a suspected drug dealer-turned FBI informant, in exchange for returning seized property and for destroying a kilo of counterfeit drugs rather than turn them over to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

As the final witness on the final day of the second trial, Greene stunned many in the courtroom Thursday, first by taking the stand and then by so radically altering his original defense that prosecutors were left stammering, forced to ask the judge for time to regroup

“Not now,” the judge replied, seeming as interested as everyone else in the courtroom to hear what Greene would say next.

Among other things, Greene said that he did not know Motta was giving him money at the time; that Motta dropped $4,000, not $5,000, cash in his squad car; and that he’s had the money stashed securely in a safe he’s kept at his mother’s house all along.

However belatedly, Greene even produced a receipt for the money Thursday ---- albiet one he said he wrote to himself.

Jurors, who had appeared to sleep through much of the earlier testimony, sat upright and swiveled their heads from side to side, from witness stand to lectern, like spectators at a tennis match as attorneys for the defense and the prosecution bounced questions to Greene, who kept knocking out surprise after surprise.

“Do you got the money now?” asked Thurston McKelvin, Greene’s counsel.

“Yes, sir,” Greene replied, eliciting incredulous gasps from the gallery.

In his surprise testimony Thursday, Greene said he met Motta in Frenchtown the night of Dec. 23, 2008, to solicit information about a vague murder-for-hire scheme in which he said he and his supervisor, Saldana, believed Motta was involved.

Video footage of that meeting, obtained by the FBI by fitting Motta with a hidden camera and body wire, showed Motta offering Greene the chance to count the money and Greene turning him down, telling him just to put it in the back of his car.

“You were totally surprised?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nolan Paige asked Greene about Motta’s money during cross-examination.

“Yeah,” Greene said. “It was in a wad. He just rest [sic] the wad in” the car, he said.

Paige asked him to admit that he took the money in exchange for destroying the fake drugs.

“There was never any talk about any substance,” Greene said defiantly. “It was all about getting the black pad back that was part of the murder-for-hire.”

With those final words, Greene had crossed out of bounds, beyond testimonial territory that the attorneys had agreed upon since no one was on trial for murder-for-hire ---- an unsubstantiated sideshow that has sidetracked much of the trial so far.

Paige, in turn, let slip a faux pas of his own while they were outside the lines.

“By the way,” Paige said to Greene, appearing to be giving up and walking away. “Do you have any felony convictions?”

Before anyone in the courtroom could stop him, Greene answered, “Yeah. Yes I do.”

Greene was convicted last week on two federal weapons charges and faces up to 11 years in prison ---- if he beats the charges against him now.

After Greene’s voluntary admission before the jury, heads fell in hands. People on the defense side grimaced and sneered. Whispering huddles formed among the federal agents and U.S. Attorney’s office personnel on the prosecution side.

The judge called for a long sidebar, and then, after much discussion and head-shaking, returned all the players to their positions and cautioned the jury to disregard what they’d just heard.

Judge Gomez said he would instruct the jury Thursday morning before attorneys give their closing arguments, which, given the stakes, are sure to be dramatic.

After that, it will be up to the jury to decide.

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