ST. LOUIS -- A federal court jury today began deliberations in the trial of Sen. Thomas Eagleton's niece, who is charged with trying to extort $220,000 from the senator by threatening to start a rumor he is homosexual.
The niece, Elizabeth Weigand, 24, and her former attorney, Stephen Poludniak, 29, were charged with one count each of extortion and conspiracy. Conviction on the two counts carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison and fines totaling $10,500.
The case went to the jury at 12:58 p.m. CDT on the eighth day of the trial.
Mrs. Weigand's attorney, Leonard Frankel, insisted the case was merely a family dispute.
'The only reason we are in this court is because of the Eagleton name,' Frankel said. 'If this were some other family, the things that were said about the Eagleton family wouldn't have had to be said.'
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Reap replied, 'They say this case is a tragedy. The tragedy is that Senator Eagleton had to come into court, read what he read and deny it.'
Mrs. Weigand testified Thursday the sexual allegations about Eagleton, Missouri's senior Democratic senator, were 'wild, preposterous and ridicuous.'
Mrs. Weigand was asked if she wanted Eagleton's attorney to think she would make public such rumors about the senator if Eagleton did not buy her $220,000 interest in the Eagleton-owned Missouri Pipe Fittings Co.
'Yes,' she replied. 'That wasmy intent. I wanted him to believe that.'
Mrs. Weigand said Poludniak told her the actions were not illegal. She said she was acting under his advice.
'Steve said, 'Oh, by the way, I've researched this and eveything's legal. I looked up everything, including blackmail,'' she testified.
In a taped conversation played this week, Mrs. Weigand told the manager of Missouri Pipe, 'I don't want to destroy Tommy. I want what I want. I want to get out. This is obviously the only way I can do it.'
Asked by her attorney why she made the statement, Mrs. Weigand replied, 'I was the one supposedly who had done all these things and Steve had made me out to be hard-nosed.
'I said that because I was trying to play up to what I was made out to be.'
The harmful information, introduced into evidence Wednesday, turned out to be hand-written documents by Mrs. Weigand alleging Eagleton had a homosexual affair in Key West, Fla.
Eagleton emphatically denied the allegation, which Mrs. Weigand said she had heard through her sister, Margaret 'Mimi' Eagleton.
Mimi Eagleton testified Thursday she heard rumors that Eagleton was gay from a friend, identified only as Suzie, who in turn had heard if from Jay Haskell, who operated a club in Key West.
Eagleton testified he had been to Key West only once, in 1972 on a fishing trip, and never had been to Haskell's club.
In earlier testimony, Mrs. Weigand, Mimi Eagleton and an older brother rebutted testimony given by the senator Wednesday.
Eagleton had said his brother's children were told repeatedly that 'the company ain't buying.' Mrs. Weigand testified she got the impression at a family meeting that the company would buy her stock.
Eagleton has told reporters he refused to buy the stock because he feared Mrs. Weigand would give the money to the Church of Scientology, of which both she and Poludniak are members. The church has not been mentioned at the trial.