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U.S. loses a round in baby Sabrina case

By GRAHAM BRINK

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 7, 2000


TAMPA -- Wednesday brought another setback for the U.S. Attorney's Office in its case against Steven and Marlene Aisenberg.

A judge denied the government's motions to keep a Hillsborough County judge, several FBI agents and nine sheriff's deputies from testifying about how they obtained wiretaps used to charge the Aisenbergs with lying about the disappearance of their 5-month-old daughter.

The hearing was in preparation for a hearing next week, which will determine whether authorities acted in good faith in securing two extensions to keep using the wiretaps.

The wiretaps were used in indicting the Aisenbergs on charges of conspiracy and making false statements after the disappearance of Sabrina Aisenberg from her Brandon home on Nov. 24, 1997. The Aisenbergs have said someone must have crept into their home at night and stolen the child. Investigators obtained a court order to bug the home after they turned up no evidence of an intruder. No trace of the child has been found.

The Aisenbergs' attorneys contend that authorities acted in bad faith in securing the extensions by misrepresenting the clarity of the tapes, omitting pertinent information favorable to the Aisenbergs and making false abuse allegations, among other things.

Todd Foster told the judge that since County Judge Eric Myers was the prosecutor at the time in charge of securing the wiretaps, he "might be the most important witness we can present to you."

U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo said he would like to hear from Myers and would allow the subpoenas for the FBI and sheriff's deputies to stand. He said he would limit the testimony to only what was relevant to the wiretap issues and would not let the defense attorneys solicit answers that might tip them to other parts of the government's case.

If Pizzo decides the wiretaps were obtained in bad faith, some of the recordings could be thrown out, a potentially crippling blow to the prosecution's case. The hearing, the lawyers agreed, could take all of next week.

Later, U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday dealt with issues surrounding the audibility of the tapes.

Merryday gave prosecutors until Dec. 31 to declare which of the 30 tapes their audio expert was going to try to enhance. The expert would then have until March 1 to get the work done.

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