BROOKLYN (CN) – “There are mysteries to be solved; there are whodunits. This isn’t one of them. Some things are just the way they appear.”
In his closing argument to a Brooklyn jury Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sam Nitze rebutted claims by three separate teams of defense lawyers who said their clients had nothing to do with the widespread corruption that has tainted international soccer for decades.
Former Brazilian soccer head Jose Maria Marin and former Paraguayan football boss Juan Angel Napout are charged with money laundering, wire fraud and racketeering. Former Peruvian soccer leader Manuel Burga faces a racketeering charge. All have pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors say the men were part of a decades-long scheme at FIFA where media and marketing rights to soccer events were traded for more than $200 million in bribes.
As Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristin Mace explained Wednesday, the trial of the three former FIFA officials is in Brooklyn – a continent away from any of their home countries – in part because some alleged money transfers passed through the Eastern District of New York.
The trial is now in its fifth week and has seen two days of jury selection, a frequently full gallery, and over two dozen witnesses, including one of the Jonas Brothers.
Wrapping up defense summations Thursday morning, Charles Stillman of Ballard Spahr, attorney for Marin, “respectfully” painted his client as a somewhat clueless old man who “was on the field but not in the game.” It was the main argument he made in his opening as well.
Stillman also told the jury Marin had “become a wealthy man well before he became the president of the Brazilian soccer federation,” implying he wouldn’t have needed to take bribes, and said there was a “complete lack of evidence that when Mr. Marin became president of [the Brazilian Football Confederation] he got paid anything.”
Throughout the trial, several witnesses have described Marin as inseparable with fellow Brazilian soccer official Marco Polo Del Nero, who is another defendant in the case but is not on trial. Del Nero has stayed in Brazil to avoid facing fraud and money laundering charges.
Stillman used the analogy of a monarchy to describe the two men: Marin, the king, made the toasts and speeches, while Del Nero, the prime minister, ran the show.
Like defense attorneys John Pappalardo, for Napout, and Bruce Udolf, for Burga, did on Wednesday, Stillman attacked the credibility of the government witnesses in the case.
But lead prosecutor Nitze got the final word Thursday after the lunch break, inching through what he implied were careless inaccuracies in the defense team’s arguments and refuting them.
“When a defense lawyer puts a theory before you,” he told the jury, “it’s your job to test it.”
The defense attorneys had to question the credibility of star witness Alejandro Burzaco’s testimony, the prosecutor said, “because his testimony was devastating” and “powerfully corroborated.”
Nitze argued the case was too complex and had too many details for a government witness to come in and lie on the stand at the risk of getting his cooperating agreement “ripped up.”
As Nitze spoke, the three defendants did not much change their demeanors from what they’ve projected all trial: Napout, the diligent note-taker, looking around frequently and taking his glasses on and off; Marin hunched in a corner, always frowning, either confused or concentrating hard or both; and Burga, aloof and expressionless.
A point of contention in the case -- and the reason pop star Kevin Jonas was called to the witness stand -- was a 2010 Paul McCartney concert in Buenos Aires that Napout had allegedly attended on the tab of Argentina-based sports marketing firm Full Play. The government called Jonas to testify the concert had in fact taken place. The defense had refused to acknowledge the show happened, but Jonas said he attended it before another show his boy band played in Buenos Aires.
“There’s a word for that, giving $10,000 in Paul McCartney tickets to the leader of the federation whose contracts you want,” Nitze said Thursday. “The word is ‘bribe.’”
When Nitze finished, U.S. Judge Pamela Chen instructed the jury on the law. Jurors got the case on Thursday evening but won’t begin deliberating until Friday morning.
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