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Bug request on Aisenbergs kept sealed

Investigators would be hindered by revealing why they sought to eavesdrop on missing Sabrina's parents, a judge rules.

By LARRY DOUGHERTY

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 28, 1999


TAMPA -- A judge decided Monday not to unseal any papers related to the listening device placed in the home of Steven and Marlene Aisenberg, who are charged with lying to police about the disappearance of their daughter Sabrina two years ago.

The motion to unseal the documents had been filed by the Tampa Tribune and was joined by the St. Petersburg Times.

In denying the newspapers' motions, Chief Hillsborough Circuit Judge F. Dennis Alvarez ruled that any such papers should be kept from public view to protect criminal investigations.

Alvarez also wrote that the request was premature because the Aisenbergs have not yet appeared in a Tampa federal court to answer the charges against them.

A lawyer for the Tribune said Monday that no decision had been made yet about an appeal.

A federal grand jury indicted the Aisenbergs three weeks ago, accusing them of providing police with false details about the kidnapping of their 5-month-old daughter in November 1997.

The Tribune sought access to the sworn statement from law enforcement agents that persuaded Alvarez to authorize a listening device to be placed in the Aisenbergs' residence, then in Brandon, in December 1997.

According to the federal indictment, Marlene Aisenberg was taped telling her husband that Sabrina was dead "because you did it!" Steven Aisenberg was taped saying that they needed to cooperate to avoid being arrested, the indictment states.

Authorities acknowledge that they don't have the evidence to charge either with murder. Sabrina has never been found.

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The Aisenbergs were arrested in Maryland, where they moved earlier this year. They posted bond and are scheduled to make their first appearance in a Tampa courtroom Oct. 6, when they are expected to plead not guilty to charges of conspiracy and making false statements.

Federal prosecutors have opposed the Tribune's request to have papers related to the listening device unsealed. State prosecutors won't even acknowledge a device existed.

In his 11-page order, Judge Alvarez said it was reasonable to believe there was one, based on the statements in the indictment, and because federal records show he authorized such a device for an unspecified kidnapping case in 1997.

The Aisenbergs' lead attorney, Barry Cohen, had opposed release of the papers, saying he didn't yet have a formal forum in which to respond to them. Cohen could not be reached Monday to comment on the judge's order.

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