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Cocaine-for-Cars Case Should go to Jury Today

A cocaine-for-cars trial is scheduled to go to a federal jury today with one less defendant. That's because a judge ruled Tuesday there wasn't enough evidence to prosecute a Miami man.

Three defendants remain, however, including Orlando bail bondsman Sheldon Polakoff, who took the stand Tuesday and declared the charges were based on "outlandish lies."

The fourth day of the trial in Orlando was marked with lively testimony that included a witness pointing to the wrong person and an admitted drug-runner being questioned about his hot-pink suit.

Early in the day, U.S. District Judge G. Kendall Sharp ordered charges dropped against Antonio A. Mata of Miami after his lawyer Mel Black said the state had not proved its case against Mata.

The judge wouldn't throw out the cases against the other defendants, Polakoff, 59, his business associate, Mark Collini, 31, and Juan A. Alcantaria of Miami.

The men are accused in a conspiracy to trade cars from Polakoff's former used-car lot for more than six pounds of cocaine. Two charges were dropped Tuesday against Collini and one against Polakoff when a government witness failed to show up. Four charges remain against Polakoff and Collini and two against Alcantaria.

Testimony ended Tuesday after the hostile questioning of a government witness by Polakoff's lawyer Mark NeJame. Witness Lafayette Joiner took the stand dressed in a pink suit.

NeJame asked him if he called that style of dress "pimping" and whether he had been involved in the prostitution business with the government's key witness, drug dealer Howard Nicholson.

Joiner, who said he once delivered drugs for Nicholson, glared at NeJame. Defense attorneys have relentlessly attacked the credibility of government witnesses, several of whom are serving prison sentences.

The theme of the defense has been that the government has been out to get Polakoff and has enticed testimony against him with sweet deals, including plea bargains, made to drug dealers.

One defense witness blundered Tuesday, however. Annie R. Battle testified that she had been arrested twice on drug charges and had been approached by federal and state agents who wanted to set up Polakoff with a drug buy. But when Battle was asked to point out one of the agents who arrested her, she pointed to a defendant, Alcantaria, instead of Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Russell Permaul.

The jury laughed.

Leaving the courtroom Tuesday, Polakoff said, "Tomorrow at this time, I'll either be a free man or in jail."

Copyright © 1989, Orlando Sentinel

Source: Orlando Sentinel

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