WASHINGTON -- Former Housing Secretary Henry G. Cisneros was indicted yesterday on 18 felony counts of conspiracy, obstructing justice and lying to the FBI about the amount and frequency of payments he made to a former mistress.
Cisneros orchestrated a conspiracy, the indictment alleges, to mislead FBI agents who were conducting a routine background investigation of him after his nomination to the Clinton Cabinet in 1992.
Three other people, including the former mistress, Linda D. Medlar, were also charged in the 21-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in Washington under the direction of David M. Barrett, a special prosecutor who has been investigating the Cisneros case for more than 2 1/2 years.
The grand jury also leveled felony charges against two personal aides who followed Cisneros from Texas to Washington, Sylvia Arce-Garcia and John D. Rosales.
They are charged with concealing from the FBI their knowledge of the scope and amount of the payments to Medlar in order to help Cisneros win confirmation as secretary of housing and urban development.
Last night, Cisneros' lawyer, Cono R. Namorato, issued a statement saying he expects Cisneros to be exonerated after a trial.
Cisneros is the second member of President Clinton's original Cabinet to be indicted.
Former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy was charged last summer in a 39-count indictment accusing him of accepting $35,000 in gifts and favors from companies that did business with his department. He has pleaded not guilty.
Much of the information filed in yesterday's indictment had been previously known.
But the indictment levels several new accusations against Cisneros, including the following:
That Cisneros' payments to Medlar continued after he joined HUD and totaled some $79,500 during his first year in office.
That Cisneros may have discussed with members of Clinton's 1992 transition team the feasibility of making a "lump-sum" payment to Medlar, apparently in hopes of ensuring her silence.
That Cisneros lied to the FBI when he said he had been involved in only one other extramarital affair besides that with Medlar.
That Medlar, who has since reverted to her maiden name of Linda Jones, was not the only woman to whom Cisneros made such payments.
No further information was made available about other possible women. But Barrett's inclusion of such allegations in the indictment -- as well as his leveling so many charges -- suggests that the prosecutor may be trying to exert enough pressure on the defendant to induce a plea bargain.
But last night, Namorato, Cisneros' lawyer, insisted that his client would never be convicted.
"While Mr. Cisneros has admitted that he has made mistakes in his personal life, he has attempted for many years to put these mistakes behind him," the lawyer's statement said.
"While Mr. Cisneros and his family do not relish the prospect of further public airing of private events beginning a decade ago, he will defend himself vigorously and expects complete exoneration after a trial."
Clinton issued a statement saying it was not appropriate for him to comment on the matter now before the courts. But the president praised Cisneros for his "distinguished career of truly dedicated public service."
In late 1992, when Clinton tapped Cisneros to lead HUD, Cisneros appeared to have resurrected a once-promising career. was his affair with Medlar -- the two lived together for a while -- that had stalled his impressive rise in Texas politics.
Cisneros was known as a successful two-term mayor in San Antonio who managed to maintain close relationships with the city's downtown business establishment as well as leaders of the poorest barrios in the Mexican-American community.
Leaving HUD after Clinton's re-election last year, Cisneros assumed the top job at Univision, the Spanish-language TV network based in Los Angeles, where Cisneros and his family had started a new life.
Recently, knowing that the statute of limitations for Cisneros' being charged with making misstatements to the FBI would have lapsed in three weeks, his lawyers had begun to hope that he would not be indicted.
A statement issued by Barrett notes that his investigation of the Cisneros case is continuing.
Moreover, hints are sprinkled in the indictment that the independent counsel is investigating other individuals and transactions involving Cisneros, HUD and Texas politics.
Barrett has previously filed felony bank fraud and money laundering charges against Medlar, as well as against her sister and brother-in-law, in Texas.
That indictment accused Medlar of buying a home with a down payment provided to her by Cisneros.
Medlar was accused yesterday of an additional charge of making a false statement to an FBI agent regarding taped phone calls she had with Cisneros.
The two former HUD aides indicted yesterday could not be reached last night. But Medlar's attorney, David Guinn Jr., expressed outrage that she had been charged by Barrett again.