ST. LOUIS -- A niece of Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton, D-Mo., testified Thursday she wanted one of Eagleton's lawyers to believe she had damaging information about her uncle that she would make public if the senator did not buy $220,000 in stock from her.
The niece, Elizabeth Weigand, made the admission for the first time in open court during her federal extortion trial.
She was asked by government prosecutors if she wanted J.J. Thyson, manager of an Eagleton family business, to think she would disseminate harmful information about the senator if Eagleton did not buy her interest in the business.
'Yes,' she replied. 'That was my intent. I wanted him to believe that.'
Mrs. Weigand testified her former attorney, Stephen F. Poludniak, a co-defendant in the case, told her her actions were not illegal. She said she was acting under his advise.
'Steve said, 'Oh, by the way, I've researched this and eveything's legal. I looked up everything, including blackmail.''
David and Margaret Eagleton, Mrs. Weigand's older brother and sister, testified the Eagleton children were never told about their interest in the family-owned Missouri Pipe Fittings Co. until Margaret obtained a lawyer.
'We were not dealt with fairly in that Mr. (J.J.) Thyson did not give us a copy of the trust and kept us ignorant as to what our rights are under the trust,' David Eagleton testified.
Thyson was named managing director of the the company under a restrictive stock agreement, often referred to as the Eagleton Trust. The agreement states that shares in the company can be sold only to blood relatives until the year 2001.
Mrs. Weigand, 24, and Poludniak, 29, are charged with one count each of extortion and conspiracy. Prosecutors said the pair threatened to release harmful information about Eagleton if the senator did not pay $220,000 to Mrs. Weigand for her stock in the company.
The information, introduced into evidence Wednesday, turned out to be hand-written notes by Mrs. Weigand alleging Eagleton had a homosexual affair in Key West, Fla. Eagleton emphatically denied the allegation, which Poludniak admitted was false.
Poludniak testified Wednesday the scheme was entirely his idea and advised Mrs. Weigand it was legal.
Both David and Margaret Eagleton testified Thursday the children had a 'very poor relationship' with Thyson, whose duties included handling the children's financial affairs.
'Mr. Thyson would try to belittle Steven, Libby, Mimi and I,' David Eagleton said.
He testified Thyson would not authorize the money for Margaret, known as Mimi, to return to college for a major in dance and psychology.
Margaret Eagleton said '(Thyson) said I didn't deserve to be able to go back to school. He said I was worthless and I had to prove I deserved to go back. He wanted me to work as a secretary for three years.'
Eagleton has told reporters he refused to buy the stock because he feared Mrs. Weigand and Poludniak would turn the money over to the Church of Scientology, to which they both belonged. The church has not been mentioned at the trial.
Margaret Eagleton testified Thursday she heard rumors that Eagleton was homosexual from a friend, identified only as Suzie, who in turn had heard it from Jay Haskell, who operated a club in Key West.
Margaret said she later spoke with Haskell and he told her he had seen Eagleton at La Terrazza De Marti, a restaurant and hotel frequented by the homosexual community in Key West. But she said Haskell never told her directly that Eagleton was homosexual.
'He said he had seen him there in the morning, sitting at a table by himself,' Mimi Eagleton said. 'He looked disheveled and unshaven, and looked as if he didn't want to be spoken to.'
Eagleton testified he had been to Key West only once, in 1972 on a fishing trip, and never had been to La Terrazza.