SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Downplaying his role in an alleged conspiracy to infiltrate abortion industry meetings and secretly videotape doctors, a longtime abortion foe testified Tuesday he did not know his colleagues planned to use fake IDs and other deceptive means to gain access.
Defendant Albin Rhomberg, a veteran abortion opponent who served as board member and chief financial officer for the Center for Medical Progress, refused to say whether he supported his colleague David Daleiden's use of a fake company and fake IDs to attend abortion industry conferences.
"It wasn't a concern of mine," Rhomberg said. "It was never discussed."
Rhomberg, a physicist who has been involved in foreign and domestic anti-abortion campaigns for more than four decades, testified on his knowledge of the center's "Human Capital Project." The project featured a series of undercover videos that Planned Parenthood claims were deceptively edited to smear the nation's largest abortion provider in the public eye.
The defendants claim the operation was an act of undercover journalism aimed at exposing the illegal sale of fetal tissue for profit. Planned Parenthood denies it profited from providing fetal tissue for research. It has never been charged with or found guilty of a crime related to its fetal tissue donation program.
Rhomberg's lawyer, Catherine Short, told a 12-member jury on the first day of trial, Oct. 3, that her client was merely an adviser to the group who provided nothing more than words to the organization.
On Tuesday, a Planned Parenthood lawyer attempted to poke holes in that narrative, showing documents listing Rhomberg as a corporate officer, valued member of the project's team, and vital in helping find donors to support the group.
After the first undercover videos were released in 2015, Rhomberg sent an email stating "things are really going well overall." In that email, he compared one video of a Planned Parenthood official saying she wanted "a Lamborghini" during talks about payments for fetal tissue donations to a "thermonuclear bomb."
Rhomberg, who refers to abortion as a "holocaust," also stated in that email: "May the Holy Spirit guide and inspire us all to destroy the evil Planned Parenthood empire."
The physicist explained in court Tuesday that his message did not imply violence or illegal activity, adding he only prays for good, not evil.
According to Rhomberg, talk of security risks facing abortion clinics and providers are "exaggerated to make them appear as victims."
He denied knowing that his colleague Daleiden set up a fake company, Biomax Procurement Services, to gain access to industry meetings, even though emails were produced showing he was informed.
"I see an email," Rhomberg said. "I can't say for certain I read it."
The defendant also denied knowing that members of his organization needed to use fake IDs to gain access to industry meetings. He said he thought Daleiden was not well known enough as an abortion opponent to require a fake identity, adding that he also thought Daleiden "seemed very capable of winning the confidence of people."
Planned Parenthood lawyer Jeremy Kamras asked Rhomberg if he ever told Daleiden not to use a fake identity.
“I didn't tell him not to rob a bank either," Rhomberg replied.
Daleiden and his co-defendants are accused of fraud, breach of contract, unlawful recording of conversations, civil conspiracy and violation of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
Planned Parenthood seeks hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for increased security costs resulting from the center's undercover operation. The defendants claim they did nothing to cause Planned Parenthood's deficient security measures and therefore they should not have to pay for them.
The trial is expected to continue through at least Nov. 8.Follow @NicholasIovino
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.