-Caveat Lector-


The man who knew too much

So, who is Joe Gersten and why are the FBI and the Australian
Federal Police so interested in him? And why is this formerly
successful US lawyer and politician seeking refugee status in
Australia as a victim of political persecution? John Macgregor
looks for the answers.

AT 53, Joe Gersten is bald and a little spherical - with a level
gaze which has stared down some of America's meanest prosecutors,
a hostile media, and eight lean years. His accent echoes Mickey
Rourke, though the boisterous shirt - which scarcely arrests an
impressive mid-section - is pure south Florida.

Gersten appreciates a touch of melodrama - though this may be a
recently acquired taste. The former Florida senator is in
Australia claiming to have been "purged from political office by
my long-time political enemy, US Attorney-General Janet Reno".
The son, brother and nephew of three respected Florida judges,
and once an admired reformist, Gersten is labelled "clueless",
"raunchy", and worse, by the freebooting press of his home city
of Miami.

After an eight-year campaign to make a new life for himself in
Australia, this week brought a first: the chief counsel for
Washington's heavyweight House Committee on Government Reform,
James C. Wilson, told the Herald: "There appear to be legitimate
concerns of improper action in the Gersten case."

As chairman of Florida's all-powerful Dade County Finance
Committee, in 1992 Gersten had run a "deep cover" investigation
which suggested racketeering and money laundering at the Port of
Miami. Major fundraisers for the Clinton-Gore campaigns appeared
to be involved, as was the New York Mafia. A restaurant named
Buccione's was being used as a conduit for illicit money

Gersten speculated that big consignments of cocaine were being
landed. He handed his investigation over to the FBI. Afterwards,
Gersten's car was stolen - with his Port documents in it. Almost
immediately, a 15-year-old boy reported seeing Gersten shoot dead
a transvestite. When his story's many inconsistencies were
challenged by police, the boy confessed that he'd concocted it -
because he and his girlfriend were "going to be paid some money
by the FBI".

By an extraordinary coincidence, the officer who brought in the
murder "witness" found Gersten's car the next day - in the
possession of people claiming to have been with Gersten at a sex
and drug orgy. The officer, J.L. Garcia, was a close personal
aide to a key ally of Mayor Steve Clark, whom Gersten was running
against for mayor of Dade County.

Richard Gregorie - the man who had put Panamanian dictator Manuel
Noriega away for life - was chosen to prosecute Gersten for three
drug and sex misdemeanours. Gregorie had been selected by State
Attorney Janet Reno. Reno thereafter took time off from pursuing
international drug cartels to administer minuscule details of
Gersten's case.

In early 1993, Reno became the United States Attorney-General.
Gersten was subpoenaed to appear for questioning by her
hand-picked successor, Katherine Rundle. It was March 16, 1993:
Gersten's election day as a Dade County Commissioner. ("Rundle,"
Gersten drily notes, "was publicly supporting my opponent.") He
was required to answer questions regarding the car theft but
wasn't told that the thief had confessed, and had been released,
11 months earlier.

Two witnesses against Gersten - in connection with the drug and
sex allegations - who could have expected life sentences for
unconnected kidnapping and armed robbery offences, subsequently
served two years' prison between them.

Remarkably, Reno's initialled instructions appear several times
on a document relating to Gersten from July 1993. From
Washington, the Attorney-General of the US was still
micro-managing the matter.

Hair tests revealed that Gersten had not taken cocaine, as
alleged, on the day in question. This suggested that he had not
lied - as was then being alleged - when he reported his car
stolen from his home, and not a crack den. "After the hair
tests," says Gersten, "The case fell apart. It shows bad faith.
It shows abuse of power."

Three years after the statute of limitations ran out on his
alleged misdemeanours, there is still a senior prosecutor
assigned to "the Gersten case". State Attorney Rundle did not
respond to the Herald's questions.

This month - eight years after Gersten fell to the Earth like
Icarus - Reno was dragged before the House Committee on
Government Reform in Washington, to answer questions about all
this. The transcript will be released this week - however, chief
counsel James C. Wilson told the Herald from Washington: "The
committee requested Attorney-General Reno to answer questions
about a number of matters. Among those matters was the Gersten
case. Her answers raised additional concerns about what happened
in the Gersten case."

THE Dade County Jail bears a plaque asserting that it was built
through the efforts of Commissioner Joseph Gersten. The plaque
might also record that Commissioner Gersten was himself confined
to the jail's maximum security wing, for civil contempt, in March
1993. Realising he was being set up, Gersten had refused to
answer prosecutors' questions concerning the car theft.

For three weeks, he supervised Dade County's multibillion-dollar
budget from his prison cell. There were regular visits from aides
and senior county staff.

Gersten was released pending an appeal against the appeal order,
and came to Australia for a holiday. While here, the appeal was
rejected in Florida - meaning he would be jailed if he returned.

Gersten initially rejected as preposterous his Australian
lawyer's advice to apply for refugee status. While visiting the
Old Fremantle Jail, a minor epiphany in the shadow of the gallows
changed his mind.

In late 1993, his refugee application was rejected. Gersten began
seven years of unsuccessful appeals - to the Refugee Review
Tribunal, then the Federal Court. He is now seeking leave to
appeal to the High Court.

Throughout this period, the US Government has shown an
extraordinary interest in a man with a single civil contempt
order in a State jurisdiction, no charges, and no criminal
record. Documents obtained by the Herald reveal a long-standing
pattern of interference in Gersten's career and life in
Australia. One is a February 1996 letter from the US Embassy in
Canberra to the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police,
Mick Palmer. Written at the FBI's behest, the letter inaccurately
refers to Gersten as "a fugitive from justice", and draws
attention to the fact that the Florida Bar was trying to disbar
him because of the outstanding contempt order.

On March 11, AFP Sergeant John Greenaway reported back to the US
Embassy that Gersten was applying for admission to the NSW Bar.
On April 15, the Embassy sent the AFP a copy of a teletype from
the FBI in Miami (which had responded to a request from FBI
director Louis Freeh). It described the crack and prostitution
allegations, and how Gersten had "fled the country". (He had in
fact had no travel restrictions.) It promised to determine
Gersten's status with the Florida Bar.

At a subsequent Administrative Appeals Tribunal hearing which had
to do with a Freedom of Information request, the AFP's Greenaway
testified that he later made inquiries with the NSW Law Society -
revealing his name and agency, and speaking to staff about

Another witness, now a NSW District Court Judge, testified that
the AFP had contacted the Legal Practitioners' Admissions Board,
which assesses the qualifications of lawyers from overseas.

After the AFP's communications with the board and the Law
Society, the society moved to cancel Gersten's accreditation to
practise as a solicitor in NSW. Gersten is now before the Supreme
Court defending his right to practise. The Law Society did not
return the Herald's call on this matter.

Why did the director of the FBI - which is an agency of Reno's
Justice Department - initiate a dialogue with the AFP about
Gersten's legal accreditation? Why did the AFP act upon such an
apparently outlandish communication, by tainting Gersten's name
with the Law Society? What did Gersten's accreditation as a
lawyer have to do with either agency?

Neither the AFP nor the FBI responded to the Herald's questions
regarding Gersten.

Leaked Australian Immigration Department documents reveal that
the FBI's interest in Gersten did not end there. In 1995 it had
contacted the department to torpedo Gersten's "skilled migrant"

The FBI referred to unsubstantiated "corrupt activities"; a
(non-existent) corruption investigation; a suspicion of bribery
based (remarkably) on a witness's testimony that there had been
none; and an implication that Gersten had fled the US after a
drugs scandal - when test results from the FBI's own laboratories
proved there had not been one.

Unsurprisingly, the Immigration Department concluded that "the
applicant is not considered to be of good character", and denied
the application. It ensured, however, that this would not be
"included as a reason for the rejection of the application".
Disclosing these "character" grounds for rejection would have
obliged the Immigration Department to make the FBI document
available to Gersten. The FBI had instructed the department not
to show the document to anyone.

>From Washington, the House Committee's James Wilson comments:

"There is a practical law enforcement question here. Information
was provided to the Australian authorities. One of the questions
the committee is asking is, 'What is the standard we apply when
supplying raw and unsubstantiated allegations, or information, to
foreign law enforcement entities?"'

As to Reno's long-standing pursuit of Gersten, Wilson says: "The
committee intends to continue to look at the background to the
Gersten case - and the documents."

When rejected as a skilled migrant, Gersten reverted to his
application for refugee status. Perhaps fittingly, it was
required to be based on "a well-founded fear of political

Gersten's calamities had begun after he handed over his
information on the Port of Miami and Buccione's restaurant to the
FBI. The bureau did not find the information interesting enough
to act on.

Since then, a Buccione's owner - Pietro Venezia - has been
charged with the murder of a tax agent. Two other owners -
seaport boss Carmen Lunetta and investment banker Marvin Grigsby
- were indicted on 10 counts of embezzlement and
money-laundering. These included large illegal donations to the
Democratic National Committee in Washington.

Though the prosecutions failed, Lunetta has resigned, and
Grigsby's reputation was destroyed.

LUNETTA was a guest at one of Vice-President Al Gore's
fundraisers on December 15, 1995. These frequently illegal
gatherings - where government favours and contributions to the
Democratic Party were exchanged - blew up into what was dubbed
"Coffeegate". The row almost earned Gore a special prosecutor:
Attorney-General Reno eventually decided against.

Carmen Lunetta also organised the largest Clinton-Gore fundraiser
ever held outside Washington, which raised $US3.4 million.

On September 14 this year, The Miami Herald reported:

"Billions of dollars in illegal drugs are pouring into South
Florida every year, according to a new State report. It seems
that drug smugglers are getting some inside help at the Port of
Miami ..."

What has motivated Reno's long crusade against Gersten?

"The answer to that can only be speculative," Gersten says.
"Maybe she was angry that I'd done her job for her at the
seaport. Maybe it was because I killed her more draconian
legislation in the Senate. Maybe she considered me a political
rival. Or maybe it was something bigger."

Gersten's Australian friend, Dr Andrew McNaughtan, has done more
than anyone to solve the Gersten jigsaw. A tenacious researcher,
he was recently questioned by the House Committee.

"When you make war," McNaughtan says. "You destroy your enemy's
ability to defend himself. That was what was behind the
communications between the FBI and the AFP - to rob Joe of his
practising certificate."

What started it all?

"I believe Joe's downfall was engineered by a cabal of interests
which included members of the FBI in Miami, Janet Reno's State
Attorney's Office, and members of the City of Miami Police
Department. It's likely that the Mayor of Dade County, Steve
Clark - whom Joe was running against - played a pivotal role.
Clark had connections to the Port of Miami, where a lot of
corrupt activities were occurring - and which almost certainly
had links to organised crime. Joe's activities as a commissioner
in Dade County had been a threat to a lot of established economic
and political interests.

"The activities of Reno's State Attorney's Office reveal that
they knew they were in deep trouble with this. That's what
precipitated the ongoing attempts to undermine Joe Gersten in
Australia. They can't let him get away with remaining credible."

Gersten v the Law Society is still running in the NSW Supreme
Court. His appeal on his refugee application is yet to be heard
in the High Court. Nevertheless, is Gersten starting to feel
vindicated on the broader issues?

"To tell you the truth, I really don't care about being
vindicated," he says. "I care about being left alone to get on
with my life, and to make a living as a lawyer in Australia."

             Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh, YHVH, TZEVAOT

  FROM THE DESK OF:                    <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
                      *Mike Spitzer*     <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
                         ~~~~~~~~          <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>

   The Best Way To Destroy Enemies Is To Change Them To Friends
       Shalom, A Salaam Aleikum, and to all, A Good Day.

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