Friday, October 3, 2008

Some observations on the Jeff Mazon trial in Peoria, Illinois

I spent a few days in Peoria covering the federal prosecution of Jeff Mazon. This is the second trial. The first ended last April in a deadlocked jury. Clearly the evidence was unconvincing in that trial. And as I sat through the beginning of this second trial trying to understand the evidence, it seemed clear that is no real evidence. Just a lot of circumstance.

Clearly a mistake was made in the awarding of a contract. But was it intentional as the prosecution and Bush Administration contend, or, was it the result of an error caused in the mass confusion of the weeks before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Mazon used an Excel spreadsheet that was created five years earlier. The creator of the spreadsheet was one of his former bosses at Halliburton. The spreadsheet is important because is presenting bids for approval, they must be converted from the Kuwaiti Dinars that they were submitted in -- much of the work was done in Kuwait and the contracts there bid using their local monetary system. One Kuwaiti Dinar (KD) is equal to 3.3 U.S. Dollars. But, the spread sheet used to prepare the bids -- from three companies -- had a mathematical flaw in it. Two of the bids were multiplied incorrectly and listed first in Kuwaiti Dinars and then multiplied by 3.3 as if the amounts were dollars. Two of the bids were listed incorrectly. A third bid was rejected for lack of qualification but was listed correctly.

Was this done intentionally?

All of Mazon's supervisors received the bids in paper form and in electronic Excel Spreadsheet form. They had ample opportunity to review the bids and even raise questions about the bids by simply clicking the "cell" in the spreadsheet to determine if there was something wrong, like an inaccurate calculation.

Mazon's superiors demanded that all the bids be submitted to them for review in Dollars. These bids were submitted in combination with the dollars listed. None of Mazon's supervisors bothered to check.

The prosecution's strongest witnesses were presented in the opening days of the trial this past week. I listened to them all. But it was clear to me that no evidence exists or has been presented so far that proves convincingly that Mazon intentionally inflated the numbers. It was more likely the numbers were accidentally inflated by the erroneous spreadsheet prepared by his supervisor.

I have yet to hear or see evidence that he is guilty and that makes me wonder why this case is being prosecuted a second time.

Mazon clearly is being tarnished not by evidence but by the culture of corruption that accompanied the opening of the illegal war in Iraq. The Bush Administration should be looking at Halliburton, not someone whom some insist is a whistle-blower. Mazon's challenge is to show his innosense in the backdrop of so much questionable conduct by others around him. His attorney, J. Scott Arthur is a very capable attorney who happens to be from Orland Park, Illinois. Very smart. Very bright. Arthur has been pouncing on the apparent lack of evidence, despite having his hands tied by the judge in the case, Federal U.S. District Court Judge Joe Billy McDade. McDade has denied Arthur the ability to fully explore the larger issues that would prove his client innocent.

Despite that, I think Mazon will be found innocent. The evidence just doesn't exist. There is no smoking gun.

-- Ray Hanania

Click here to read my most recent news/analysis of the trial.

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