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Jury mulls Ebersole's fate

June 19, 2003|by KEVIN KILLEN/Northern Virginia Daily

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - A U.S. District Court jury heard closing arguments Wednesday, then began deliberations in the case of a Washington County man charged with supplying the U.S. government with bomb dogs that couldn't find explosives.

Russell Ebersole, 43, is being tried on 28 counts of wire fraud and making false statements to government agencies.

Prosecutors say Ebersole was paid more than $700,000 in 2001 and 2002 by five government agencies, including the State Department and the Federal Reserve, as those agencies scrambled to provide security for their buildings and employees after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The jury broke for the evening at 6 p.m. without reaching a verdict.

Ebersole runs a Stephenson, Va., dog-training business, Detector Dogs Against Drugs and Explosives.

He markets the dogs as being trained to detect explosives, drugs and weapons for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in Washington, the Federal Emergency Management Agency Disaster Field Office in New York and the IRS Service Center in Fresno, Calif.

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The government alleges that Ebersole's dogs cannot do the work they were expected to perform.

The jury of five men and seven women began deliberations Wednesday afternoon after receiving an hour's worth of instructions from U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema.

Before getting the case, the jury listened to closing arguments from the prosecution and the defense.

"This case is all about lying," U.S. Attorney Thomas McQuillan said. "As I stated in opening arguments eight days ago, this case is about lying to get a job, and lying to keep that job."

McQuillan rehashed testimony from the trial, including that about the Federal Emergency Management Agency's payment of an $11,000 bill.

McQuillan told the jury that fictitious rsums were made up for DADDE handlers.

"He phonied up these rsums, and sent them out to get contracts," McQuillan said. "Again, lying to get a job."

Ebersole's attorney, Spencer Ault, told the jury that his client's dogs were fine.

"They did the job," he said. "In tests that were given, other than the covert government test in Sacramento, Ebersole's dogs passed."

Ault used the analogy of a football team and its coach in relation to his client's situation.

"If (Washington Redskins coach) Steve Spurrier loses games because of his players, do we punish the coach?" Ault asked. "It's the same thing here. The government wants to punish the trainer, not the dog."

Ault said that the real witnesses - the dogs - were not allowed to show what they could physically do because the judge disallowed it.

"If we could have brought those dogs in this courtroom, you as a jury would have seen that they do their job," Ault said. "Detecting odors."

Deliberations are to resume today at 9:30 a.m. Ebersole is slated to face two more trials this year, including another federal trial in the U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg, Va., in August on six counts, including federal witness tampering.

He also is scheduled to appear in Richmond (Va.) Circuit Court on July 14 for further action on a perjury count that stems from testimony before a hearing officer with the Department of Criminal Justice Services last year on charges of falsifying documents.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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