Originally created 08/18/99

3rd trial begins for ex-official



CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Like players reading a well-rehearsed script, attorneys began questioning witnesses in federal court Tuesday in the third Operation Lost Trust trial of former state Rep. Larry Blanding.

Mr. Blanding is charged with accepting $1,300 in bribes for his support of a parimutuel racing bill when he was a member of the House of Representatives in 1990.

His 1991 conviction was tossed out, and his retrial in June ended in a hung jury. Opening statements Tuesday were much the same as two months ago, and the pace of the trial moved more quickly.

Prosecutor Robert Meyer told jurors they would see video tapes of Mr. Blanding taking money for his vote. The Sumter resident was "caught red-handed on video tape taking a cash bribe," Mr. Meyer said.

But defense attorney Ed Bell said his client did nothing wrong and that back in 1990, it was legal for lawmakers to take cash contributions. Mr. Blanding considered the money he took from FBI informant Ron Cobb a contribution, Mr. Bell said.

"If you are allowed to take a cash campaign contribution, what you see on these video tapes is entirely legal," Mr. Bell said.

Mr. Cobb, a lobbyist, agreed to cooperate with the FBI as an undercover informant after he was caught in a drug sting.

FBI agent Michael Clemens, who oversaw the 1990 Lost Trust investigation, testified Tuesday.

But prosecutors were initially unable to get into evidence what Mr. Cobb gained from his cooperation with the government.

Mr. Clemens testified Mr. Cobb received a $250,000 lump sum payment last year, of which about $140,000 went immediately to the federal government for back taxes.

Mr. Bell objected, saying Mr. Clemens was not an expert in tax matters, when prosecutors asked the witness to testify about additional state and federal taxes Mr. Cobb would have to pay on the $250,000.

Mr. Blanding, 45, was among 28 state lawmakers, public officials and others snagged in Lost Trust. He was convicted in 1991 and served seven months in prison after a trial in which he did not testify.