WASHINGTON -- Former Housing Secretary Henry G. Cisneros, expressing faith in "the inherent fairness" of the judicial system, pleaded innocent yesterday to charges he conspired to lie to FBI agents about payments he made to a former mistress.
Three co-defendants entered similar pleas. U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin set trial for Nov. 4 after all four waived their rights to an earlier date.
Brendan V. Sullivan Jr., Cisneros' Washington lawyer, said he needed time to file "substantial" pretrial motions, foreshadowing vigorous defense. Sullivan became a national figure by representing former White House aide Oliver L. North in the Iran-Contra scandal in 1987. He later helped North win a reversal of his criminal conviction.
Cisneros, once a rising Democratic star, has become the second former member of President Clinton's Cabinet to be indicted.
He was charged last month with 18 counts of lying, conspiracy and obstruction of justice for allegedly hiding from FBI investigators the extent of his financial relationship with a former mistress.
The FBI check of Cisneros' background was prompted by his nomination as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The first member of Clinton's original Cabinet to be indicted was former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, who was charged in August with accepting illegal gifts and lying to investigators. He has pleaded innocent.
Linda Medlar Jones, Cisneros' former mistress, entered her innocent plea along with two former employees of Cisneros, John Rosales and Sylvia Arce-Garcia. All three were charged with participating in a conspiracy to conceal Cisneros' payments to Jones.
Cisneros, 50, president of the Spanish-language television network Univision, said after his 25-minute court appearance he regretted "the pain that this matter has caused my wife, my children, my parents and my family."
The former mayor of San Antonio refused to comment on the charges against him, which resulted from a two-year criminal investigation by independent counsel David M. Barrett.
Cisneros publicly acknowledged his relationship with Jones, then known as Linda Medlar, in 1988 as he was finishing his service as mayor, and he reconciled with his wife, Mary Alice.
But the indictment suggested that after Clinton nominated him for the HUD post in late 1992, Cisneros minimized his financial ties to Jones.
Although he told FBI agents he had paid Jones "no more than $2,500 at a time and no more than $10,000 a year," Cisneros actually paid her more than $250,000 from 1989 through early 1994, the indictment said.