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Judge delays trial on case-fixing scheme

A defense attorney charged Friday that the federal government has insufficient evidence to support a case against his client, a Tampa lawyer charged as the middleman in a extortion-bribery scheme at the Hillsborough Courthouse.

Over strong defense objections, a federal judge granted prosecutors' requests to delay the trial of Charles B. Corces. Corces' attorney, Anthony Gonzalez, said he is ready for trial now and accused the government of stalling.

The trial had been set for next month. Now it will be heard in May at the earliest.

"They don't want to turn over the discovery material because they probably don't have any," Gonzalez said after the hearing.

Corces, 36, and former state prosecutor John S. Valenti, 39, were arrested by sheriff's deputies in January 1991 after Corces accepted $35,000 from another lawyer, Manuel A. Machin. Prosecutors allege the money was a payoff in exchange for a lighter-than-normal sentence for a client of Machin's who was charged with murder.

Machin was cooperating with authorities at the time of the alleged payoff.

But last week, a week before Valenti's scheduled trial in state court, both Valenti and Corces were named in a federal indictment charging conspiracy, extortion and bribery.

Prosecutors said that Valenti had been cooperating with federal authorities, and he now is expected to enter a guilty plea to the new charges in exchange for his testimony. Valenti's attorneys have withdrawn from the case because he assisted federal prosecutors without telling them. So far, he has not hired a new attorney.

Meanwhile, the state charges were dismissed against both men Monday.

At Friday's status hearing before U.S. District Judge William J. Castagna, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gregory Kehoe and Walter Furr met in private with the judge to argue for the postponement.

Kehoe would not comment about why the government sought the delay.

A federal grand jury is expected to hear more evidence about case-fixing next week. Records of other state court cases involving Valenti and Corces have been subpoenaed.

One case grand jurors will review involved two Texas men charged with possession of 47 pounds of marijuana in November 1990. They pleaded guilty and received relatively light sentences of one year's probation. Corces represented at least one of the men.

Two Florida men who were couriers for the marijuana and who were not represented by Corces also entered guilty pleas but were sentenced to longer terms of probation.