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General takes the stand in fraud trial

A federal prosecutor began his cross-examination of a retired Army general Monday with a fairly benign question about how long the general had prepared for last week's direct testimony.

"Mr. (Tony) Peluso, you have held my life hostage for the last two years," Wallace Nutting replied angrily, before the judge interrupted and calmed the former four-star general.

Nutting, 64, is among seven former Sooner Defense of Florida Inc. officials charged in 1991 with defrauding the government out of $40-million by selling shoddy military ammunition and charging for costs not incurred. Two former Defense Department employees also are charged. Their trial began in early February and is expected to last well into the summer.

Nutting got his chance to testify last week and used it to address the jury about his career and his later association with Sooner, the now-defunct Lakeland munitions maker. Nutting was an outside director and consultant to the firm beginning in 1986. He became president weeks before Sooner collapsed in July 1988.

On Monday, Nutting readily conceded to spending hours in preparation for both his direct testimony and Peluso's anticipated cross-examination.

"This is probably the single most important incident in my life, exactly," Nutting said.

Peluso asked about Nutting's experience at West Point, where he adopted the code of honor that requires cadets not to lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate anyone who does.

In further review of Nutting's decorated military career, Peluso seemed to be positioning Nutting as someone who was so smart, honest, able and attentive to details that he could not have failed to detect criminal activity at Sooner.

Nutting has suggested it would have been treason for him to knowingly help send defective arms to troops, especially since defective shells wounded tank soldiers under his own command in Korea.

Peluso asked Nutting how he coped without the respect, power and perks he had as a top military leader.

"Wasn't it difficult to go from commanding a quarter-million people one day," Peluso asked, "to shoveling snow in your driveway in Maine a few months later?"

At his retirement in 1985, Nutting commanded the U.S. Readiness Command at MacDill Air Force Base. He received the Distinguished Service Medal, the nation's highest peacetime award.

Nutting said he and his wife had long looked forward to retirement and that he found the transition no more demanding than other retirees do.

Pressing Nutting about his role at Sooner, Peluso brought up a 1987 meeting he and other Sooner officials had with prospective investors in New Jersey. Nutting said he had no real role in the presentation, because he was not involved in the financial or technical ends of Sooner, only the organizational.

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