Technical foul

Jul 16, 2003 at 12:00 am

Despite their denials, News Hits suspects that federal prosecutors are secretly kicking themselves over a key decision they made early in the case of basketball star Chris Webber and his father, Mayce Webber Jr.

The trial was set to begin on Tuesday. But on Monday the government offered Webber a plea bargain and will likely dismiss the charges against his father.

Trouble with the case began when star prosecution witness Ed Martin, whom federal prosecutors alleged supplied Webber $280,000 in cash and gifts during the star’s days at the University of Michigan, died earlier this year.

Webber (now a Sacramento Kings forward) and his father were indicted last year on charges of lying to a grand jury about money and gifts allegedly received from Martin. A former University of Michigan booster, Martin ran an illegal lottery at metro Detroit auto plants. Webber was playing ball for U-M when he allegedly received the money, which is a National Collegiate Athletic Association no-no. Martin, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges related to money laundering, told the feds he loaned money to Webber and other players with the expectation they would repay him when they made it big in the NBA. Webber, his father and aunt, Charlene Johnson, were initially indicted for obstructing justice, but prosecutors dropped the charges earlier this year after Martin died.

The final blow to the government’s case came last week when U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds threw out critical evidence, including notes found in Martin’s home that allegedly reflected payments to Webber.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Corbett complained that the government was being placed at a disadvantage by Martin’s death, but Edmunds showed little sympathy.

She reminded Corbett that defense counsel proposed taking sworn testimony from Martin before the trial because of his poor health, but prosecutors objected.

On Monday, Webber pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of criminal contempt. The agreement allows him to avoid serving any prison time. The judge is to decide Sept. 16 if Webber’s crime will be a felony or misdemeanor, and what fine to levy.

As for Corbett, he says that he does not regret objecting to taking sworn testimony from Martin.

“When we made the decision at the time, we deemed it the appropriate one,” Corbett told News Hits.

Which, as Webber can certainly attest, just goes to show how one bad play can change the outcome of an entire game.

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