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Evidence takes back seat in Jeff Mazon prosecution
By Ray Hanania — Southwest Chicago suburbanite Jeff Mazon is sitting in a Peoria Federal court room again this week because an Excel spreadsheet used to calculate the conversion of Kuwait Dinars into U.S. Dollars to pay an Iraq war related contract was, as the defense admits, inadvertently and unintentionally inflated. Mazon, who oversaw hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for Halliburton that were the foundation of the March 19, 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, left Halliburton’s employ and about six months later entered into a business relationship with a Kuwaiti contractor. With the inadvertent errors in calculation, the fact Mazon left Halliburton and then entered into a business relationship with the Kuwaiti contractor may make Mazon circumstances look bad. But after sitting through the testimony of key witnesses last week, it is clear the prosecutors do not have one hard fact, one eye witness, or one solid piece of evidence besides circumstance that proves Mazon did anything wrong.
Mazon’s argument that the inflated contract payment was the result of an accident is far more convincing than the Bush Administrations assertion that the mistake was intentional.
Mazon’s strongest argument is that he never tried to hide the contract payment amount at all. The bid that openly listed the contract to provide fuel to American soldiers was upfront and given to several of his supervisors for review.
In fact, despite many opportunities to catch the error, Mazon’s supervisors never even bothered to examine the inflated contract payment. That raises questions about their own failed responsibilities in protecting the best interests of the United States.
Another supervisor testified he always demanded that contract bids be converted from Kuwait Dinars to U.S. Dollars — one Kuwaiti Dinar is equal to $3.3 U.S. Dollars. Yet, when the bid documents came to him from Mazon showing three bids on the proposal, two of the bids were listed in Kuwait Dinars and had been multiplied wrongly in the spreadsheet increasing the dollar amount precisely by the conversion rate. Had that supervisor merely stopped and looked at the numbers, the errors would have easily been found and stopped.
Mazon himself was over-worked. He and every prosecution witness during the first days of the trial confirmed that everyone worked excessive hours, almost 20 hours every day, seven days each week. The work load and contracts never let-up and only increased “exponentially” as the war effort intensified.
Mazon repeatedly asked his supervisors for relief and help managing the work load that included not just one contract that is the focus of this case, but many hundreds and even thousands of contracts. His calls for help went unanswered.
That Mazon entered into a business relationship with a contractor he met is, of course, being made into an issue even though the business had nothing to do with Halliburton or the war. And, at least one of his supervisors did the same thing, leaving Halliburton to open his own businesses handling war related contracts, too. In fact, it was common practice, but a practice the court would not allow the defense to explore in detail.
One of the chief witnesses brought by the prosecution, former Army Col. Robert Gatlin, Mazon’s supervisor, also left Halliburton to form his own company, GKL, in 2004 that did business with Halliburton interests in Kuwait.
Gatlin said that Kuwait law required him to make a Kuwaiti citizen the 51 percent owner of his company in order to do business in Kuwait and said he couldn’t remember if he had received approval to violate Halliburton policies.
Worse, Gatlin conceded during his testimony that he could not even remember how to pronounce his “51 percent” partner’s Arabic name, calling him only “Kerry.”
The trial in Peoria is a second attempt by the Bush Administration to convict Mazon without introducing any new evidence. Mazon’s trial continues through next week when the case is expected to be turned over to the jury. Mazon’s attorney, J. Scott Arthur, is a highly respected lawyer from Southwest suburban Orland Park. Mazon is originally from nearby Country Club Hills.
Mazon was prohibited from putting his actions in the proper context because U.S. District Court Judge Joe Billy McDade, who also was the judge in the first case, prohibited Mazon’s attorneys from bringing up the larger issues.
The first days of the second trial were marked by open and chilling acrimony from Judge McDade towards Mazon’s attorney. The judge vowed not to give him the same “leeway” that he gave him in the first trial.
Yet despite the judge’s restrictions and animosity, when all of the same evidence in the case was first brought to a federal jury in Rock Island last April, the jurors deadlocked and could not agree on guilt or innocence.
Prosecutor U.S. First Assistant Attorney Jeffrey B. Lang said he asked to prosecute the case after reading about it in the Wall Street Journal. Also highly respected in his field, Lang denied speculation Mazon is being targeted for other reasons which the defense sought to raise but the judge rejected, including that Mazon was being framed because he was a “whistle blower” who exposed corrupt practices.
But by retrying Mazon, it appears that the only thing new is the hope that the government could find another jury that might accept the weak evidence in this case.
Will justice be served?
The retrial might be seen as an attempt by the prosecutors to find a more sympathetic jury to support a weak case. But with no new hard evidence, it’s difficult to see how even a new jury can come to another conclusion than acquittal.
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political columnist and author. He covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at TheArabDailyNews.com, TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com
Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com ArabNews.com/taxonomy/term/10906
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