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Attorney is investigated in two cases

Defense attorney Manuel Machin, the whistle-blower who helped snare a prosecutor in an alleged bribery-extortion scheme last month, is under investigation by the Florida Bar. The Bar is looking into two cases involving Machin: One involves a complaint filed by the state attorney's office in December. The other concerns an offer to give a murder victim's son $30,000 if the dead man's family promised not to seek a harsh sentence for Machin's client, Nelson Gonzalez, at his sentencing.

"We have that matter under consideration in this office," said Susan Bloemendaal, assistant staff counsel for the Florida Bar in Tampa. She said the Bar "opened a file" on Machin Thursday after learning about the $30,000 offer in recent news accounts.

Last month, then-prosecutor John S. Valenti admitted reducing Gonzalez's murder sentence for $35,000 to be split with defense attorney Charles B. Corces, who later was accused of being the middleman.

At the request of prosecutors, Machin handed over money supplied by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. Valenti and Corces were charged with bribery and extortion.

On Tuesday, the Gonzalez case took another twist when an angry witness told a judge that Machin had offered her murdered son's child $30,000 "if we didn't make a scandal."

The money, Machin explained, would come from Gonzalez's relatives, but only if the dead man's family promised not to request a harsh sentence for the defendant.

The Bar's Rules of Professional Conduct state that "a lawyer should not request a person other than a client to refrain from voluntarily giving relevant information to another party," a Bar attorney said.

Bloemendaal also confirmed Thursday that the Bar has received a complaint against Machin filed by Lee Atkinson, a prosecutor and executive assistant in the office of Hillsborough State Attorney Bill James.

The complaint was filed Dec. 11, she said, several weeks before Machin reported the bribery-extortion scheme to James' office.

The Bar can't divulge details of complaints until they are resolved.

Atkinson said the complaint was filed because "a witness in a case made statements under oath that raised questions about Mr. Machin's contact with him."

Atkinson emphasized that the unidentified witness was not connected to the bribery-extortion matter.

Atkinson could not say whether the Bar complaint might have been a factor in Machin's coming forward to disclose the bribery-extortion attempt.

Machin could not be reached for comment Thursday. But earlier this week he defended the Gonzalez family's actions.

"It's a good faith offer for the benefit of the child," Machin said in court Tuesday. "It's for the child's education when he comes of age."

Machin compared the offer to million-dollar settlements regularly made by large corporations. He said his case was being singled out because his client is poor and Puerto Rican.

A Bar investigation could result in a finding of no probable cause, in admonishment for minor misconduct or, in the most serious violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct, disbarment.

Machin and James' office have been at loggerheads before over the defense attorney's behavior.

In 1985, court records show, Machin was prosecuted on a misdemeanor trespassing charge stemming from an incident in which he refused to leave a restricted area in the Hillsborough County Jail. Machin had been counseling a client charged with driving under the influence and tried to accompany her into an area used for Breathalyzer testing.

The case was dismissed in 1986, appealed by the state attorney's office, then thrown out by a second judge on a technicality in 1987.