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Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Dubester had his work cut out for him when he delivered his opening statement last week in the bribery and tax-fraud case against real estate mogul Douglas Jemal. Just a few feet behind him sat a pair of formidable defense attorneys — namely, Reid Weingarten and Michele Roberts — waiting to pick at any inconsistencies or mistakes in his remarks in the District’s largest public-corruption case this year. Dubester may have felt the pressure as he began his hourlong speech to a jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Though he outlined a complicated scheme clearly, his statement ran long, so much so that Judge Ricardo Urbina asked if the jury wanted to take a break in the middle. The key charge against Jemal, his son Norman, and employee Blake Esherick is conspiracy to bribe a public official, Michael Lorusso, the former deputy director of the D.C. Office of Property Management. Lorusso pleaded guilty to bribery charges in 2004 and is expected to be a chief witness for the government. Jemal and Esherick also face tax-evasion charges. Dubester said the conspiracy stems from a 2001 financial crisis at Jemal’s company, Douglas Development Corp. That year, he said, the company was charged $100,000 in overdraft penalties. In an effort to get more lease deals with the city, Dubester said, Jemal wooed Lorusso with trips to Las Vegas and gifts such as a Rolex watch and a pair of cowboy boots. The government’s evidence includes hundreds of documents such as tax returns and bank statements. Still, Dubester’s opening didn’t win many points from Urbina, who chided him for using terms like “bald-faced lie” to describe Jemal’s alleged schemes. Roberts of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld was forceful and confident in her opening. Jemal didn’t need Lorusso to sweeten any business deal, she said. “This dog won’t hunt,” she added, referring to the allegations. Yet it’s unclear who will come to Jemal’s defense. Although a few friends dropped by the trial to wish him well, many of the big names on the defense’s witness list, including Mayor Anthony Williams and Councilman Jim Graham, have not yet been contacted. And their testimony may not help. Graham says he thinks “there was substantial wrongdoing. Do they want me to say that?”
Emma Schwartz can be contacted at [email protected].

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