MAYS LANDING - Jurors were promised destroyed and burned ballots and an inside look at a "secret army," but instead got questionable witnesses and no real evidence, defense attorneys said Wednesday as closings began in the long-running Atlantic City voter-fraud trial.
City Councilman Marty Small and five others have been on trial for four months on allegations they tried to steal the 2009 Democratic mayoral primary in Atlantic City.
Fourteen people were charged in the case. Six are expected to be tried later this year. Two pleaded guilty and testified for the state, although one - Ronald Harris - had his deal revoked after his antics on the stand ended with his testimony stricken.
Three of the six defense attorneys gave their closings Wednesday, with the other three expected to go today. The state could go as early as Thursday afternoon, but may not get the chance to rehash its case for the jury until Friday.
"Ripping and shredding and burning, oh my," defense attorney Michael Schreiber told the jurors, comparing the state's allegations of ballot-tampering to Dorothy's fears in "The Wizard of Oz." "It's a secret army, run for your lives."
Schreiber admitted the "secret army" term - used by the state as an illustration of the conspiracy - was first coined by his client, LuQuay Zahir. But, he said, listening to the tape that captured those words, "it was obviously a joke."
"He was laughing when he said it," Schreiber said. "The bottom line is: there is no secret. There is no army."
And just where are those promised ripped, shredded and burned ballots, Small's attorney, Stephen Funk, asked.
"In the end, you have been shown no evidence Mr. Small or any of these defendants did any of those things," he said.
Eddie Colon Jr. joined Small's campaign, saying he wanted to help with absentee ballots, but instead was taping discussions he had with several of the defendants.
In the state's 163 recordings that cover about 30 hours of conversations between March 5 and June 10, 2009, Small never condones anything illegal, Funk said.
"Eddie Colon tried and tried, but he didn't make Mr. Small say anything incriminating on tape," the attorney said.
"The state's entire case has come from the words of thoroughly unbelievable witnesses," said attorney Ed Weinstock, who is representing Toni Dixon. "Eddie Colon made his first career out of being a drug dealer. He's making his second career being a government informant."
The attorneys painted Colon on Wednesday as a convicted drug dealer hoping to help get a deal on his latest charge.
"The state built this case on sand," Funk said. "And when you put Eddie Colon into the mix, it's sand mixed with cocaine.
"Would you make any decision based on the word of Eddie Colon?" he asked the jurors.
He questioned former co-defendant Ernest Storr's credibility as well.
Storr testified that he told the group how to mishandle absentee ballots, but also admitted to lying to the grand jury before pleading guilty to wrongdoing during the Small campaign - and while he worked on the campaign of previous Mayor Scott Evans.
"The state had him dead to rights," Funk said, pointing out that Storr testified for the prosecution in return for a plea deal that could see him avoid prison.
"Storr admitted to lying under oath more than 50 times to the grand jury," Schreiber said.
He then told the jury about an oxymoron: "Like ‘deafening silence' or ‘Storr's truthful testimony.'"
Weinstock said the trial started as "a search for truth, but as the trial progressed the search changed."
He said the conspiracy was supposed to be proved by "Ronald Harris, and we all know how that turned out."
During his closing, Funk played a taped conversation between Colon and Small made after the investigation became public. In it, Small - who still does not know he is being recorded - tries to calm Colon by telling him that they did nothing wrong.
"This shows," Funk said, "if Mr. Small is the head of a conspiracy and a crime boss, he stinks at it."
The six defendants face at least nine charges each. Small, Tracy Pijuan and Thomas Quirk each face an additional charge for allegedly lying to the grand jury.
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