Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Jeff Mazon Trial - a case of speculation and circumstance; Where is evidence?

Jeff Mazon Trial - a case of speculation and circumstance; Where is evidence?

The trial of Jeff Mazon, a former Halliburton employee accused of inflating a war-related contract in exchange for a kickback, enters its third week in a Federal courtroom in Peoria.

This case was tried once before in Rock Island before the same judge and by the same prosecutors, and with the exact same evidence. The jury in the last trial deadlocked, failing to reach a decision.

The deadlocked Rock Island jury obviously was not overwhelmingly conviced that Mazon was guilty of the crimes charged and was in fact an innocent man. U.S. Attorney Jeffrey B. Lang, insists it was not a majority but declined to disclose how many jurors did in fact support conviction versus acquittal.

Having reported on the first trial, the only thing new about this trial is déjà vu. The same witnesses. The same accusations. Nothing new, so why are we here again?

Mazon's defense is solid. He admits that a calculation error was committed on the contract in questions, but a mistake is not intentional criminal conduct. The prosecutors insist he inflated the price on purpose in order to receive a "bribe" that was paid to him six months after he left the company, even though the error was later discovered. In the end, the inflated payment amount was corrected.

The contract was among thousands of contracts issued to support the war effort in Iraq in early 2003. It was issued in Kuwait Dinars. Each Kuwaiti Dinar is equal to 3.3 U.S. Dollars. The spreadsheet used to calculate the conversion mistakenly increased the dollar amount instead of converting the Kuwait Dinars into U.S. Dollars.

Mazon and his attorneys have always alleged this case is little more than an effort by Halliburton and the Bush administration to make Mazon into a "scapegoat," taking attention away from the bigger issues of corruption involving the war itself and the role that Halliburton has played in managing the contracts.

Bush wants the American public to believe something is being done about allegations of war-related corruption that are rampant, but not enough so that the public might ask the logical question: "If there is so much corruption under Halliburton's watch, why is Halliburton and its subsidiaries continuing to receive the lucrative contract business?"

Halliburton was formerly owned by Dick Cheney, the U.S. Vice President. Many expect Cheney to return to Halliburton when his term ends this year.

The prosecutors failed to convince the jury the first time that Mazon committed any crime. And they haven't presented any new evidence in this second trial to suggest the outcome will be any different.

Last week, we heard testimony from a number of prosecution witnesses who failed to make a connection between the allegedly intentionally "inflated" contract bid of a Kuwaiti company and the million dollar loan that Mazon received over 5 months after he left his job with Halliburton.

The testimony of each and every government witness was speculative and inconclusive. They could not say with certainty that the contract in question was intentionally inflated. How could jurors reach that conclusion?

There are no eye-witnesses to a "deal." No evidence of a conspiracy between Mazon and the Kuwaiti contractor to inflate the contract in exchange for anything. All there is before the jury is the prosecution's assertions and an Excel Spreadsheet with a poorly constructed formula that each time miscalculates the final amount with an embedded inaccurate formula.

It is also a fact that Mazon did enter into a business relationship with a Kuwait businessman and his company.

But, before Mazon engaged in private business with the Kuwaiti, he left Halliburton and worked for the Athens Olympics in Greece for at least six months.

The prosecution's allegation that the loan Mazon received from the Kuwaiti contractor was a "kickback" in exchange for the inflated contract price is weak. The loan is not connected in time or logic to Mazon's employment with Halliburton. There is no testimony other than suspicion.

Additionally, the loan was in the form of a draft check that was declared to U.S. customs when Mazon entered the U.S. Attempts to deposit it in an "off-shore account" was at the direction of the bank in Greece where he was working at the time, six months after leaving Halliburton's employ. The "loan" eventually never materialized, the check was never cashed and no money exchanged hands.

As I prepare myself to sit through yet another week of trial, I cannot help but think about how these wasted dollars could have been better spent by the Bush administration. One failed attempt to convict should have been the end of this apparently never-ending story.

- Ray Hanania

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