- The Washington Times - Monday, October 24, 2005

Douglas Jemal, one of the region’s most prominent developers, and two of his top executives pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges of bribing a D.C. official with vacations and cash in exchange for lucrative government lease deals.

Yesterday’s arraignment of Mr. Jemal, 62; his son, Norman, 36; and leasing executive Blake Esherick, 42, in U.S. District Court marked the first court appearance for the trio since their indictment last month on charges of bribery, fraud and tax evasion.

Prosecutors say the executives gave Michael A. Lorusso, a former deputy for the D.C. Office of Property Management, $25,000 in cash and gifts for millions of dollars in favorable leasing deals.

Lorusso, who pleaded guilty in the case last year, faces up to six years in prison when he is sentenced. No sentencing date has been set.

Mr. Jemal, who previously has denied any wrongdoing, and his son face 40 years in prison, if convicted. Mr. Esherick faces 45 years.

Defense attorney Reid Henry Weingarten of D.C.-based Steptoe & Johnson LLP said the three executives look forward to disputing the charges in court.

“Our clients very much want to go to trial,” he said.

The three defendants remain free on their own recognizance but were required to turn over their passports.

Judge Ricardo M. Urbina said Douglas and Norman Jemal would be allowed to travel out of the country for a planned trip for a bar mitzvah.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Dubester said prosecutors were prepared to go to trail as early as February.

“It’s just a case we’d like to get to trial,” he said.

In a memorandum filed last week, prosecutors said much of the factual evidence isn’t likely to be in contention.

“Rather, the disputes in this case, as with many white-collar cases, are near certain to center on the defendants respective intents,” Mr. Dubester wrote in the Oct. 20 memo.

Two key question include whether gifts provided to Lorusso constituted bribes and whether company funds paid to Mr. Esherick — apart from his weekly paycheck — were meant to help him evade paying income taxes, according to Mr. Dubester’s memo.

In the indictment, prosecutors said bribes helped the executives secure more than $100 million in business deals with the D.C. government, including a deal to rent office space at 77 P St. NE for 10 years.

Mr. Weingarten said defense attorneys have begun reviewing evidence obtained by prosecutors.

Most records cited in the indictment were obtained through a search warrant of Douglas Development Corp. offices, prosecutors said.

“There is little in the way of surprise in the discovery materials,” Mr. Dubester said in his memo.

In addition, Mr. Dubester said defense attorneys also have “substantial knowledge” of the testimony of several government witnesses.

He said that unnamed Douglas Development employees who testified in the case were represented by an attorney paid for by the company.

Mr. Dubester said prosecutors still are assembling records for inspection relating to Lorusso and D.C. contractor Fernando Villegas, who also has pleaded guilty in the case and faces five years in prison.

Judge Urbina accepted not-guilty pleas from each of the three executives yesterday before setting a tentative trial date of Sept. 8, 2006.

The judge warned attorneys he wants the case to move “smoothly” leading up to trial.

“I do not want to see surprises,” Judge Urbina said.

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