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Friends fret over Aisenberg tapes release

On the taped conversations of the Aisenbergs are some who fear embarrassment.

By GRAHAM BRINK, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 11, 2002


TAMPA -- The two bugs investigators placed in the home of Steve and Marlene Aisenberg four years ago picked up more than 2,600 conversations. While the couple dominate the conversations, dozens of third parties were overheard as well, including friends, family, reporters, lawyers, a rabbi and even a psychic.

Now, all those conversations, some of them potentially embarrassing, could become public, which has made a few of the bystanders a little uneasy.

Last week, federal prosecutors decided not to oppose the release of the audiotapes they used to indict the Aisenbergs in the disappearance of their 5-month-old daughter, Sabrina. The judge agreed, and the Sheriff's Office followed up with a promise to release all the tapes including those not used in the prosecution.

The Aisenbergs wanted the tapes released. They have said all along that they did nothing wrong. The tapes, they said, contained nothing incriminating and, in fact, would help vindicate them.

But also on those tapes are dozens of third parties. The judge has given them until Jan. 22 to give a reason why the tapes shouldn't be released.

The tapes could include potentially embarrassing conversations about marital disputes and everyday household matters that the average person wouldn't want aired publicly.

At least one neighbor, Judy Bailey, has said publicly that she will contest the release of the tapes on which she can be heard. She didn't say anything incriminating, she said, but wonders how the government could bungle a case so badly and then subject bystanders to embarrassment.

The Aisenbergs reported Sabrina missing from their home in Valrico on Nov. 24, 1997. Hillsborough sheriff's investigators quickly came to suspect the Aisenbergs and bugged their home, placing one bug in the kitchen and another in the bedroom. A grand jury indicted the Aisenbergs in 1999 on charges of conspiracy and making false statements.

The charges were dropped in February after a judge recommended the tapes be suppressed. The judge said sheriff's detectives made up facts in getting permission for the bugs, and that the limited number of tapes he listened to did not contain incriminating comments.

Aisenberg lawyer Todd Foster said his clients need the tapes to be released to exonerate them. He said investigators and federal prosecutors abused the bugging process and that has now led to the victimization of the friends, neighbors and others picked up on the tapes.

"It just shows how widespread the fallout can be when the government doesn't follow the rules," Foster said.

Ilene Schwartz, a friend who visited the Aisenbergs' home several times after Sabrina was reported missing, said the tapes could be embarrassing and she'd rather they weren't broadcast all over the radio and television. On the other hand, she said she has complete faith that the Aisenbergs are innocent. Releasing the tapes, she said, could clear that up and refocus the investigation on what happened to Sabrina.

"Whatever I said three years ago I imagine it's been cleared up since then," said Schwartz, who added that it was tough to remember what was said. "It's unfortunate we even have to think about it anymore."

-- Contact Graham Brink at (813) 226-3365 or brink@sptimes.com.

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