HANANIA: Mazon accepts misdemeanor plea deal in Halliburton case, FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, 03-24-09

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ANALYSIS: Justice Department accepts single misdemeanor charge in Mazon case

By Ray Hanania — In a surprise move, the U.S. Justice Department withdrew its 10-count major frauds charge against Jeff Mazon and instead accepted a misdemeanor plea agreement. Mazon, a former contract manager for the scandal-plagued Halliburton and its spin-off counterpart KBR, had been accused of rigging a contract bid allegedly in exchange for a $1 million bribe from a Kuwaiti businessman.

 

But Tuesday, before U.S. District Court Judge Joe Billy McDade, Mazon pled guilty to one misdemeanor count of failing to inform his supervisor of a contract that had been inaccurately inflated, but later corrected.

 

Mazon successfully fought off the charges twice, winning deadlocked juries in both trials last year in April and again in October, arguing that the inflated amount was an error that reflected an increase that precisely matched a reverse monetary conversion between U.S. Dollars and Kuwait Dinars. The error did not come to light until Mazon had left KBR/Halliburton and had explored, many months later, doing business with the contractor, a practice that was not unusual for others at the company.

 

After the second trial deadlocked and Judge McDade tried to pressure the sole holdout juror to change her verdict, prosecutors had said they expected to go back to trial a third time this month.

 

In fact, prosecutors originally told me they did not know if they would seek a third trial. But later the same evening, they leaked the news that they planned to seek a third trial to another reporter in Rockford who had not covered the case but had given the government friendly and shallow news coverage.

 

The plea agreement is a victory for Mazon and a black eye both for the Justice Department and Judge McDade, who oversaw both trials first in Rock Island where the Halliburton contract was associated, and later in McDade’s home court room in Peoria, Illinois.

 

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Justice Department issued a release explaining Mazon and the government have agreed that the defendant will be credited for time served, and that for the first six months of a one-year term of supervised release, the defendant will be under home confinement. These terms are subject to approval by the Court. The defendant is scheduled to be sentenced on July 10, 2009.

 

Having covered parts of the first trial and having personally sat in the court room through the second trial, it was clear to me that the evidence presented by the government was sketchy and circumstantial. Much of the testimony was based on witnesses who admitted having engaged in misconduct themselves.

 

Some speculated that Mazon was being targeted by the Bush administration and Vice President Dick Cheney to prevent Halliburton from becoming the focus of the corruption charges, which appeared endemic there. Cheney served as the company’s CEO, but later resigned when he became Vice President.

 

McDade had prohibited Mazon’s attorneys, Orland Park lawyers J. Scott Arthur and Alan Brunell from arguing that Mazon was being made into a scapegoat. Prosecution witnesses also admitted that contracts were routinely given rushed approval and little scrutiny, suggesting that errors were extremely likely. They also testified that it was not unusual for former Halliburton and KBR contractors to later, after leaving their employ, work for contractors with whom they did businesses. Those facts became the foundation of the prosecution’s weak and unsuccessful case.

 

Many things have happened since the second trial ended that would push the government to back out of the case. Bush and Cheney were replaced by President Barack Obama, who has other priorities including forcing the Justice Department to apply the rule of law rather than prejudice as the cornerstone of their evidence.

 

Halliburton reportedly has relocated its corporate headquarters to Dubai. And there are increasing calls for war crimes charges to be brought against Cheney.

 

Mazon had won over the sympathy of several jurors in the first trial and a sole juror in the second trial. That juror reportedly had been ostracized not only by the judge but by the other jurors who were anxious to finish the nearly three week trial.

 

She had written on the back of her legal note pad words that not only are significant in the Mazon trial, but that also reflect a spirit of change in the Obama-led Justice Department. “Innocent until proven guilty.”

 

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com and by email at rayhanania@comcast.net.)

 

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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and Columnist who began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He covered Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992 (Mayor Daley to Mayor Daley) and has expanded to writing for newspapers around the world focussed on Middle East and American politics.

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