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Attorney: Seminole casinos didn't launder cash

By DAVID KARP

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 20, 2000


MIAMI -- In the summer of 1997, an undercover DEA agent posing as a drug dealer went to Stephen Weil's home near Fort Lauderdale with an urgent request: He needed to launder thousands of dollars of drug money.

According to a federal prosecutor, Weil told the agent about a prime place to go to make drug money look like legitimate income:

The Seminole Tribe's gaming casinos.

In federal court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jena King said Wednesday that the tribe's gaming casinos had been described as a center for laundering millions from illegal drug sales.

"They didn't want to deal in thousands," King said about the Seminoles. "They wanted to deal in millions."

The tribe, which owns a casino in Tampa, came up during opening statements in the money laundering trial of Weil, a 65-year-old financial analyst, and Weil's lawyer and friend, 74-year-old Yale Garber.

The two are on trial on six counts of money laundering and conspiracy to launder $425,000 that they allegedly were told came from drug sales. If they are convicted, each count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Although prosecutors and defense attorneys both talked about the Seminoles during opening statements, none of the money allegedly laundered by Weil and Garber went through the tribe.

"It's laughable," Bruce Rogow, special counsel to the Seminoles, said of the allegations mentioned in court Wednesday. "Of course the Seminoles are a million miles away from something like that. They do quite fine with their legal business."

Weil worked in 1994 as a consultant for Gaming Management International, which had been bidding to become operator of the tribe's $34-million casino in Coconut Creek in Broward County.

Another company ultimately became the casino's operator. GMI President Gary Fears said he fired Weil for non-performance in 1995, four months after hiring him.

In court Wednesday, authorities said Weil mentioned the tribe at the start of an undercover drug sting in 1997. Paul Mangone, an undercover agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration, had received a tip that Weil was offering to launder money for drug dealers for a fee, authorities said.

He went to Weil's suburban Broward house with $50,000 rolled up in a coffee can, posing as a drug dealer, prosecutors said.

What he did not know was that Weil had secretly been acting as an informer for the FBI, Weil's attorney said Wednesday. Prosecutors acknowledged Wednesday that the FBI had used Weil since 1990 as an informer.

Weil, a father of three, was never authorized to take any action; he was only supposed to pass along tips, prosecutors said.

Even so, authorities said, Weil took the money and charged a commission for laundering it. After accepting $50,000, agents recorded Weil meeting with someone at Creative Gaming Systems Inc. in Boca Raton. Weil later gave the agent a $40,000 check drawn on the account of the gaming company, court records show.

Weil's original plan was to go to the tribe's casinos to launder the money, according to prosecutors. But prosecutors said the Seminoles would not take the cash.

Why?

Undercover agents were told it wasn't enough for the Seminoles, said King, the prosecutor. The tribe only dealt in larger sums.

Using other companies, prosecutors say, Weil and Garber laundered $425,000 between 1997 and 1998.

In his opening statement, Weil's attorney, David Tucker, said Weil only talked up the tribe because he thought it might interest the FBI, whom he secretly had been working for.

A federal task force had launched Operation Cops and Indians into the tribe, Tucker said. "The whole thing was about: Let's get the Seminole Indians," he said.

But Weil didn't know whether the Seminoles were laundering money. Aware of the FBI's task force, he simply dropped their name.

"He held out the Indians as an excuse," Tucker said, in hopes that the agents he believed were drug dealers would give him more money they wanted laundered. "He was telling them a little lie."

Weil did not know agents were recording his words on audio tapes, which will be played during his trial this week.

But the agents never took Weil's bait, Tucker said.

The FBI also had not asked Weil to work on a case against the Seminoles, he said. "Stephen was on his own," Tucker said. "He did what he was programmed to do."

Weil never spent the money-laundering fees he accepted because he planned to give the cash to the FBI, Tucker said.

Tucker asked U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz to close parts of the trial to the press Wednesday. Weil has been informing on reputed crime bosses for 20 years, and he's concerned for his family's safety.

The judge said she would rule on that request as needed during the case.

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