Tags: Abortionist | Gets | Prison | Extortion | Scheme

Abortionist Gets Prison in Extortion Scheme

Thursday, 24 May 2001 12:00 AM

Dr. James Scott Pendergraft, who once "bragged" of committing more abortions than anyone else in the U.S., was convicted Feb. 1 of attempted extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion and mail fraud. His adviser on real estate, Michael Spielvogel of Orlando, was convicted on the same charges plus making false statements and lying to the FBI.

Prosecutors had sought about nine years for Pendergraft. Although he was convicted on more counts, Spielvogel was sentenced to only 41 months in prison and not fined.

U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges said he gave the lighter sentences because there was no evidence to show anyone was victimized individually, and the evidence supported only a request for $1 million rather than the higher amount cited by prosecutors.

Attorneys for both defendants were pleased with the sentences, although both will appeal the convictions. Pendergraft's attorney, Bruce Rogow, said, "He [Hodges] imposed the guideline sentence, which is the proper sentence."

There was heavy security inside and outside the federal courthouse because of nationwide interest in the case. Hodges received dozens of letters after the convictions in which people tried to sway his sentencing decision.

During the three-week trial, Spielvogel testified he had told Pendergraft there had been threats of violence against the "clinic," when there were none, and that he lied to the FBI about this. No evidence of such threats was found.

There was vocal opposition when Pendergraft announced his intention in 1999 to open the abortuary in a building he had bought in 1998. Marion County Commissioner Larry Cretul, who was a witness, negotiated with Pendergraft to try to prevent the facility's opening.

During the investigation, the government used a wiretap to record phone calls between the men. Pendergraft told Cretul he would not open an abortuary in the county if he were paid amounts ranging between $100,000 and $100 million.

He claimed in his testimony this was reasonable and was not extortion because of his investment in the building and the loss of income he would experience by not opening the "clinic."

After the sentencing, Cretul said he was glad he reported Pendergraft's actions and participated in the wiretapping. "Had those conversations not been recorded, the county would be in terrible financial trouble today," he said.

An FBI videotape of a meeting between Pendergraft and an attorney for the county was a key piece of evidence. In it, Pendergraft was shown saying he would bankrupt the county if necessary and then put up a statue of himself in the town square.

Abortion opponents have picketed the "clinic" since before it opened. Pendergraft was not allowed to hire off-duty police officers as security guards and sued the county and the city over this.

Pendergraft owns four other abortuaries in Tampa, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. A nurse in Pendergraft's Ocala "clinic" said he intended to keep his facilities open even if he goes to prison.

Pendergraft faced a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and fines of $750,000, and the maximum for Spielvogel was 40 years. Previous motions for a new trial were denied. Both men remain free on bond pending their appeals.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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Dr. James Scott Pendergraft, who once bragged of committing more abortions than anyone else in the U.S., was convicted Feb. 1 of attempted extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion and mail fraud. His adviser on real estate, Michael Spielvogel of Orlando, was convicted on...
Abortionist,Gets,Prison,Extortion,Scheme
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2001-00-24
Thursday, 24 May 2001 12:00 AM
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