Clinton's not only one facing perjury charges

This Just In...

January 26, 1999|By Dan Rodricks

President Clinton isn't the only American man accused - for the time being - of lying under oath and obstructing justice. Yesterday in U.S. District Court here, a 31-year-old guy named Gregory Savoy went on trial for perjury related to a civil case that's been settled. (Sound familiar?) He's also accused of obstruction. If convicted of these offenses, Savoy could go to jail for up to five years; a judge could order him to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. Already he's lost a good-paying job with one of the world's largest and richest companies.

Like the Clinton matter, the Savoy case involves allegedly perjurious statements uttered to attorneys, and eventually to a court, during litigation in 1997.

It also involves secretly made tape recordings between acquaintances.

It's not about sex.

But it's about something akin - hot-selling cars.

The Savoy case grew from the dust of one of the largest commercial corruption cases in U.S. history.

In June 1995, former executives of American Honda Motor Co. were found guilty of accepting more than $15 million in kickbacks from automobile dealers in a bribery scheme that spanned at least 30 states and continued throughout the 1980s. The executives took cash, expensive jewelry, luxury cars, swimming pools and other gifts from dealers in return for lucrative Honda franchises as well as special allocations of top models that were in short supply and could be sold for up to $2,000 more than their sticker prices.

As the dust settled on the criminal case, numerous Honda dealers around the country went to court claiming they hadn't received their fair share of top-selling Accords and Civics because of the bribery scheme. In a flurry of lawsuits, consolidated in federal court in Baltimore in 1996, the ``honest dealers'' claimed the cars they needed to stay competitive were diverted to dealers willing to cough up the bribes. As a result, the ``honest dealers'' lost millions in sales in the 1980s and early 1990s.

After months of litigation, Chief Judge J. Frederick Motz approved a settlement worth nearly $330 million between American Honda Motor Co. and 1,800 of its dealers.

How did Greg Savoy figure into this?

Before the Honda case was settled here, the ``honest dealers'' had gone to Motz to ask that they be protected from retaliation.

In 1997, while they were suing American Honda, they were still doing business with it.

But the dealers claimed that Honda officials on the East Coast were denying them access to ``port cars'' - valuable extra cars that dealerships could seek, over their usual monthly allotments - because of the civil suit. They claimed that only dealers who'd stayed out of the suit were getting ``port cars.''

To support their claim, the dealers submitted the affidavit of one Jeffrey Dorf, owner of D&C Honda in Tenafly, N.J., and one of the dealers suing Honda. Dorf claimed that, in a conversation in a Tenafly diner on April 21, 1997, his district sales manager, Greg Savoy, told him that dealers named as plaintiffs in the civil suit would not get ``port cars.''

Ten weeks later, Savoy filed a declaration ``under the pains and penalties of perjury'' disputing Dorf's accusations. Among his declarations were these statements:

``No one has ever instructed, directed, suggested or stated to me in any fashion that dealers who are suing Honda should be treated differently in any respect than any other dealer.

``I did not tell or suggest to Mr. Dorf that I was not supposed to help out the dealers suing Honda.''

Savoy didn't realize that his April chat at the diner with Dorf - like Monica Lewinsky's telephone conversations with Linda R. Tripp - had been recorded.

``Rather than just leave it to be his word against Mr. Savoy's, [Dorf] recorded, legally in New Jersey, the conversation,'' said Dale Kelberman, assistant U.S. attorney, in opening statements to the jury yesterday. ``The tape of that conversation proves the lie.''

After the car dealers submitted Dorf's tape-recording and its transcript to the court, Honda lawyers withdrew Savoy's declaration, expressing concern that he ``was not truthful'' with them. Savoy lost his job. Motz referred his statements to federal prosecutors. He was indicted last May.

``Until two years ago he'd had a promising career with Honda,'' his defense lawyer, Josh Treem, told the jury. ``He'd started out as a traffic analyst, worked his way up. He was district sales manager of the year for his zone in 1996. He had received raises and bonuses. All that's gone. He was indicted as a liar. His employer also branded him a liar and, without so much as a howdy-do, fired him.''

In his opening statement, Treem seemed to suggest that his defense of Savoy will include an attack on Honda's lawyers. They were the ones who'd prepared the statements, Treem said. They chose the words. They directed Savoy to sign them, and that's what ``the good corporate employee'' did, without fully understanding the relevance or use of his statements.

Treem also suggested that the tape-recording made by Dorf in Tenafly might have been heavily edited by the car dealer and his attorneys ``to have it say what they wanted it to say.''

Kelberman, the prosecutor, said he will show that Savoy's allegedly perjurious declarations had an impact on the Honda case. Treem said he'd show that it didn't.

The trial is expected to last five days. It'll be interesting to see how Greg Savoy and Bill Clinton finish the week.

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