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A cooperating witness can be a wild card for prosecutors. And last week, defense attorney Reid Weingarten tried to turn the table on the government’s star witness in its case against D.C. development mogul Douglas Jemal. Michael Lorusso, the former deputy director of the D.C. Office of Property Management, spent nearly four days on the stand detailing gifts-including cowboy boots, a trip to Las Vegas, and $10,000 in cash-he says he received from either Jemal, his son Norman, or Blake Esherick, another employee at Douglas Development Corp., in exchange for favorable lease agreements. But when Lorusso faced Weingarten on Thursday, the defense attorney launched question after question at the witness as he tried to convince the jury that the former government official was only looking to win a lower sentence for his November 2004 guilty plea on charges of defrauding the government. Weingarten, a Steptoe & Johnson partner who’s no stranger to high-profile defense cases, highlighted many of Lorusso’s wrongdoings for which he won’t be charged, including his failure to pay taxes in 2001, 2002, and 2003. If Lorusso cooperates, Weingarten asked, “Your sentence could be probation?” Lorusso, a heavyset man with salt-and-pepper hair, said he did not know. Weingarten looked shocked, “You didn’t ask anyone how low your floor could be?” Lorusso’s answer was no. Weingarten continued, “Do you believe you’ll get a more favorable letter [from prosecutors] if Douglas Jemal is convicted or acquitted?” Again, a similar reply. “I don’t know,” Lorusso said. Weingarten, growing ever more exasperated, fired back, “Is that as truthful as everything else you’ve said in this court?” This time Lorusso was sure: “I believe it is.”
Emma Schwartz can be contacted at [email protected].

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