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Jury in controversial Iraq War contracts case deadlocks, second time
By Ray Hanania — For the second straight time, jurors deadlocked in the Federal prosecution of a former Halliburton contract manager accused of inflating a price in exchange for an alleged bribe. The deadlock only confirmed what defense attorneys had argued in defending Jeff Mazon, the southwest suburban man who has been the center of the more than three-year-long investigation. The government’s evidence, Mazon’s attorney said, only showed that an error, not a scheme, had occurred.
The jury deadlock is a slap in the face for the prosecutors, but a black eye for the soft-spoken U.S. District Court Judge Joe Billy McDade who presided not only over this trial in Peoria, but also in the first trial in Rock Island last April.
McDade seemed to cross the line of fairness when he challenged the sole juror’s position, even though the law clearly allows for one or all jurors to determine “reasonable doubt” regarding the evidence.
The drama began last Thursday, after a day and a half of jury deliberations, when the jury foreman informed McDade by note that one juror, identified only as “Juror 32,” supported acquittal.
McDade surprised the court when he expressed his view that the hold-out juror might be “biased,” “predisposed” or possibly had engaged in misconduct. He expressed those views to the defense and prosecution teams before summoning the jury to the courtroom. After a discussion and the questioning of each juror, McDade conceded there was no evidence to suggest misconduct and he accepted the deadlocked decision.
Monday’s events were a replay of last week’s events when he expressed his “regret” that the jury could not reach a unanimous decision. McDade re-read his instructions on fairness – the third time he did so in the trial.
Defense attorneys argued McDade may have prejudiced the case by putting pressure on the hold-out juror to change her mind, not on all the jurors.
Jurors deliberated a full day Friday and most of Monday before sending a second note to McDade stating they were still deadlocked.
Prosecutors took three weeks to outline their case against Mazon, citing thousands of documents and dozens of witnesses. None of the witnesses or documents proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the inflated price was the result of an intentional “scheme,” as prosecutors alleged, but an error as Mazon’s defense team, led by Orland Park attorney J. Scott Arthur, argued. Arthur called no witnesses, brushing off the prosecution evidence as unconvincing.
“Juror 32” was not identified by name, but it was clear the court was speaking about one juror who was observed during the trial to pay the most attention to the case, keeping extensive notes. In contrast, some of the other jurors seemed bored and inattentive. Others appeared as if they had dozed off during testimony.
The inflated contract was for a Kuwaiti company to provide fuel to American soldiers as they prepared to invade Iraq from Kuwait on March 19, 2003. The contract price rose as a result of a mathematical formula that increased it based on an inaccurate application of the conversion rate from Kuwait Dinars to U.S. Dollars. Each Dinar is worth 3.3 dollars.
Several of Mazon’s supervisors reviewed and signed the contract but never questioned it. Prosecution witnesses confirmed Mazon, like all the employees at the time, were overworked, putting in up to 20 hours a day, seven days a week.
Mazon later quit Halliburton and took a new job working for the Athens Olympics in Greece. It was while in Greece that Mazon met the contractor and they discussed working together on a business venture. The contractor gave Mazon a $1 million loan to open a McDonald’s franchise in suburban Chicago.
Mazon never tried to hide the loan and in fact publicly declared it to U.S. Customs and to anyone who asked about what he was doing.
But McDade prevented Mazon’s attorneys from exploring key issues such as how many other former Halliburton employees started businesses with former contractors. And, McDade banned Mazon’s defense team from raising questions about errors with other contracts that were also approved during the same period.
McDade set an Oct. 30 status hearing to determine if the government would recharge Mazon a third time.
U.S. Attorney Rodger Heaton issued a statement, saying, “We believe the government presented a strong case and are disappointed the jury did not reach a unanimous verdict. The trial team is dedicated and determined to seek justice in this matter. After a brief, well-earned break, we will evaluate our position and continue to move forward.”
Mazon’s attorneys said they had no comment.
This post has already been read 36 times!
Hanania loves to write about American Arabs in politics, and focuses on Arab life in America.
Currently, he writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com. He writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers. He also writes for the online websites TheArabDailyNews.com and NewsAmericaNetwork.com (Illinois News Network at IllinoisNewsNetwork.com).
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.
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.
Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. Formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate, Hanania also has written news, features and Opinion Columns for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News, Regional News and Palos Reporter newspapers in Chicagoland. Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.
Hanania is Palestinian Christian from prominent Bethlehem and Jerusalem families. 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
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