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Aisenberg defense: No coke on tapes

Lawyers want bond conditions revised for the couple, accused of lying about their daughter's disappearance.

By LARRY DOUGHERTY

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 4, 1999


TAMPA -- Federal prosecutors added an explosive twist to the baby Sabrina case in September when they said Steven Aisenberg had admitted to cocaine use on a tape secretly recorded by investigators.

Prosecutors made the announcement the same day they charged Aisenberg and his wife, Marlene, with lying about the disappearance of their 5-month-old daughter, Sabrina, from their Brandon home two years ago. The indictment strongly implied foul play by the couple.

Steven and Marlene Aisenberg are charged with lying about the disappearance of their daughter from their Brandon home.
This week, though, the Aisenbergs' attorneys filed a motion stating they can't find the cocaine comment on audiotapes provided by federal prosecutors. The defense lawyers say some conversations on the tapes are inaudible and unintelligible.

If the government can't provide a tape containing the comment, the lawyers want a judge to modify the conditions of the Aisenbergs' pretrial release bonds, which included a drug screen. In network television appearances, the Aisenbergs have denied wrongdoing in connection with their daughter's disappearance. They have also specifically denied using cocaine.

Besides seeking to loosen the conditions of the Aisenbergs' bond, the defense motion also fulfills lead defense attorney Barry Cohen's announced intention to put investigators' conduct on trial.

The defense motion, filed Thursday, recounts how a federal prosecutor informed a Maryland judge that the government had a taped statement of Steven Aisenberg admitting cocaine use. That comment was not reprinted in the indictment prosecutors filed against the Aisenbergs.

Yet, the motion states, there was no mention of a statement involving cocaine on either wiretap summaries or on selected tapes a federal prosecutor has identified as pertinent to the defense lawyers.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office did not return calls seeking comment Friday.

One of the Aisenbergs' attorneys, Todd Foster, declined to say Friday if the defense team had listened to all 214 tapes the government recorded.

For now, the defense's motion appears to be moot. That's because on Wednesday, one day before it was filed, a judge rejected a related motion to modify the Aisenbergs' bond. Thursday's motion was filed as a supplement to the first motion.

Foster, the defense attorney, said Thursday's motion might be refiled when defense lawyers ask the judge to reconsider his decision.

The indictment charges the Aisenbergs with lying to investigators about details of the kidnapping they reported on Nov. 24, 1997 -- the morning they say their daughter was taken from their Brandon house.

The indictment quotes secretly recorded conversations between the couple, in which Marlene Aisenberg allegedly says their baby was "found dead because you did it," and her husband allegedly says, "We need to discuss the way that we can beat the charge." Prosecutors said they didn't have enough evidence to charge the Aisenbergs with murder.

The Aisenbergs now live with their two other children in a house owned by Steven Aisenberg's father in Maryland. Last month, in their original motion to modify conditions of their bonds, the Aisenbergs sought permission to rearrange financial liens on the house.

The house is used as security for Steven and Marlene Aisenberg's appearance bonds -- $25,000 each. Otherwise, it is free and clear of any debt.

To pay the couple's legal bills, the family wants to take out a $200,000 mortgage on the house, which they say was recently appraised for $370,000.

The lender wants to hold the first mortgage on the property, so the Aisenbergs are asking the government to make its bonds subordinate to the first loan.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark A. Pizzo denied that motion Wednesday. The Aisenbergs' attorneys filed Thursday's motion as a supplement to the original motion, unaware the judge had already denied it.

No trial date has been set.

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