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Mud-slinging lawyer has been target, too

His name sounds like a character out of a Dick Tracy cartoon strip.

He's Manny Machin (pronounced "Machine"), a fast-talking attorney who has shaken the Hillsborough County Courthouse with allegations of corruption involving judges, prosecutors and other lawyers. But Machin has a reputation himself for sometimes bending the rules of his profession.

Last year, for example, Machin acknowledged having an affair with a woman whose husband he was representing in a divorce case. Machin said he saw no conflict of interest because the husband knew about the affair and the divorce was uncontested.

And the Florida Bar wants to know more about a $30,000 trust fund Machin offered to the family of a man murdered by one of his clients, offered with the proviso that family members not testify adversely when the client was sentenced.

That was only prologue.

This week Machin was at the center of a controversy when court officials released a 1,234-page deposition he gave last fall.

The sworn testimony was taken in connection with state charges that defense attorney Charles B. Corces tried to extort a $35,000 bribe from Machin to fix a murder case. The money was to be split between Corces and then-prosecutor John S. Valenti.

The case has since been moved from state to federal court, where both Corces and Valenti have been charged with bribery and extortion.

Machin's deposition is filled with tales of corruption, most of it unsubstantiated hearsay he claims to have received from Corces, and those named are crying foul and denying the allegations. Skeptics say Machin is less a civic-minded whistle blower than an opportunist who is trying to save his own skin.

"He's a manipulator. Look at his profile, look at everything he's done. He uses leverage to get everything he wants," said Anthony Gonzalez, a veteran Tampa attorney who represents Charles Corces.

"He (Machin) claims that's all in the interest of doing good criminal defense work, where I would view the tactics to be illegal and unethical."

Gonzalez said much of what Machin attributes to Corces cannot be proved, and is only Machin "lashing out" at other people and trying to make Corces look like the source.

Machin was born in Cuba in 1957, came to the United States four years later and grew up in Tampa. He went to college at Florida State University and law school at the University of Florida.

After he failed the Florida Bar exam a second time, Machin protested all the way to the state Supreme Court that he deserved a retake because of a misprint that required him to exchange test booklets at the start of the test.

"Obviously, that unnerved me for the duration of the exam, and I missed the minimum score by a few points," he said in his deposition last year in the Corces case.

The court denied Machin's request, and he had to take that portion of the Bar Exam a third time. He passed.

Machin was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1983 and worked for the St. Petersburg law firm of Battaglia, Ross, Hasting, Dicus and Andrews before starting his own practice in criminal defense.

As revealed in his deposition, Machin's career has taken some interesting turns:

Last year, the Florida Bar began an investigation of Machin's offer to pay $30,000 into a trust for the unborn child of a man killed by Nelson Gonzalez, Machin's client. In return, the victim's family had to agree not to ask the court for a harsh sentence for Gonzalez. Some witnesses say Machin simply offered the money to the victim's girlfriend for her silence at the sentencing hearing. She rejected the offer.

In spring 1990, the Bar and the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office investigated a complaint by Hillsborough Circuit Judge Robert Bonanno that Machin threatened to run against him in a judicial election if Bonanno did not recuse himself from four drug cases Machin was handling.

Bonanno removed himself from hearing any cases in which Machin was the attorney. Machin denied making any threats, but he did say he felt Bonanno had become prejudiced against him over the years.

Neither the Bar nor the state attorney's inquiry resulted in action against Machin.

In his deposition, Machin says Corces told him about Bonanno trading courtroom deals for sex.

In December, 1990, the state attorney's office accused Machin of trying to persuade a witness to lie in a second-degree murder case. Javier Abreu told prosecutors that Machin approached him in a hall and told him to lie under oath about the size of a club used as a weapon by one of the defendants. The Bar also is investigating that complaint.

Machin says he saw his former associate, Corces, use cocaine but acknowledged he did not report him to the Florida Bar for discipline or help, although the rules of the Bar require him to do so.

State Attorney Bill James filed a Bar grievance accusing Machin of writing an obscene come-on line on the note pad of a female assistant prosecutor. The Bar investigated, but found no violations of conduct rules.

When an FBI agent shot and killed a client of Machin's during an arrest last year, Machin called a news conference. Based on nothing more than information from a disgruntled FBI informant, Machin said he had evidence that the FBI intentionally killed his client. The shooting later was ruled accidental.

Several times during the deposition, Machin invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege not to answer questions that might incriminate him. One of those questions was who paid him $15,000 in cash to represent Nelson Gonzalez in the murder case. Another was whether Machin ever filed the required federal reports of transactions involving $10,000 or more in cash.

Gonzalez, Corces' attorney, raised several other ethical questions with Machin. Machin acknowledged hiring a female court reporter who became a close personal associate and who, Gonzalez intimated, changed depositions and fed Machin intelligence from other confidential depositions.

Machin called that suggestion "an absolute boldfaced lie." But he refused to answer questions about whether he took ski trips with the woman, checked into hotels with her on various afternoons or bought her jewelry and presents.

When asked why he initially went to authorities to report possible courthouse corruption, Machin cited his sense of ethics, morals and civic duty.

He acknowledged he also was covering himself.

"If I was being set up, that is to say, if I was being set up by Mr. Corces," Machin said in the deposition, "then I wanted to have law enforcement know that I was being set up."

_ Staff writer Jeff Testerman contributed to this report.