Friday, December 08, 2023

Perjury allegation surfaces at trial

by University of MontanaNate Hegyi
| March 31, 2009 12:00 AM

The W.R. Grace & Co. environmental trial is taking a “spring break” this week with testimony scheduled to resume on Wednesday, April 8.

But before court was excused, controversy surfaced with prosecution witness Robert Locke facing accusations of perjury. Judge Donald Molloy said before he adjourned court last Thursday that he would consider over the weeklong break a move to strike Locke’s testimony.

Locke was a global vice president in the construction products division for Grace. He left in 1998 and has a pending lawsuit against the company.

The perjury charges came to light during fierce cross-examination by defense attorney Thomas Frongillo.

Frongillo, representing defendant Robert Bettacchi, alleged that Locke had lied to the jury about a conversation he supposedly had with Bettacchi and that he had stolen company documents.

Frongillo suggested that Grace documents given to prosecutor Kevin Cassidy by Locke were stolen from the company before the former employee left. The action was a direct violation of a 1974 employee contract Locke signed when he was hired to the company, according to Frongillo. The contract stated that employees could not retain copies of sensitive documents once they left Grace.

“The reality of it is, Mr. Locke, is that you were collecting these documents over time, that this was part of a scheme, and that you were squirreling them away in anticipation of a fight with Grace,” Frongillo said, referencing Locke’s 1998 lawsuit against Bettacchi and the company.

Locke maintained a calm exterior as he explained that he was given a chance to look at and take documents that would otherwise be destroyed after he left. In addition, he disagreed with the defense’s interpretation of the employee contract.

Frongillo would have none of it.

“You stole them, didn’t you? They weren’t your property, they were the company’s property,” he said.

Also in question was Locke’s honesty pertaining to an alleged conversation he had with Bettacchi about Grace real estate in Libby. He recalled this conversation in his testimony Wednesday.

“I had real bad vibes … I said it was a real bad idea, we should just plant grass and keep people the hell out of it,” Locke said last Wednesday.

In response, Bettacchi allegedly said, “buyer beware.”

However, in an 11-hour testimony with government officials during a 2005 grand jury investigation of Grace, Locke stated under oath that he had never discussed the properties with Bettacchi. In addition, there were no written records by the company or by Locke pertaining to the conversation, Frongillo said.

“You came up with a fabricated story, an outright lie, because you wanted to stick it to the guy who didn’t give you any money,” Frongillo said, referring to Locke’s unsuccessful attempts to get a salary settlement from Grace.

Frongillo suggested dryly that Locke’s memory “miraculously reappeared” when he heard the testimony of Mel and Lerah Parker, the Libby couple who built a nursery on former Grace land. He then accused Locke of meeting twice with an Environmental Protection Agency special agent last week before his own testimony.