A federal jury in Des Moines took less than two hours Thursday, including time for lunch, to reject charges that state Sen. Matt McCoy used his political power to pry $2,000 from two former associates in a business deal gone wrong.
McCoy's relatives sobbed with relief when jurors announced their verdict in court. The smiling senator, who faced up to 20 years in federal prison, repeatedly hugged his lawyers.
"I'm ready to enjoy Christmas," McCoy said later. "I've got a lot of Legos to buy between now and Christmas Eve."
Bill McCoy, the senator's father, choked up as he pronounced it "the most wonderful day of my life."
Thursday's not guilty verdict apparently ends federal authorities' pursuit of McCoy over the past two years. The charge he faced was attempted extortion, rather than extortion, because the money McCoy eventually received was provided by the FBI, not the former business partners.
Courtroom testimony during the nine-day trial showed the case began in late 2005 when Thomas Vasquez, a security company salesman and former friend of the senator's, complained to a Des Moines police detective about having to pay McCoy $100 for each sale of ADT QuietCare, a system to monitor frail, elderly people.
Vasquez, who pocketed about $2,600 as a paid government informant against McCoy, recorded a conversation with McCoy within days of his first contact with the FBI, court testimony showed. Eventually, more than 11 hours of recordings were compiled, as McCoy and Vasquez met in various coffeehouses, usually with FBI agents nearby.
One meeting included Reid Schultz, Vasquez's boss and another alleged extortion victim.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ann Brickley told jurors Thursday morning: "The government is not asking you to take Tom Vasquez home with you for Christmas. We're just asking that you consider his testimony."
Brickley also stressed to jurors that it was McCoy's own words, not just Vasquez's, that damned the senator. The taped conversations include McCoy inaccurately bragging about his role in winning state Medicaid approval for QuietCare purchasers and issuing profane threats to drive Schultz out of the security business if Schultz ignored their deal.
"Public officials don't get to use the power of their office for their own private game," Brickley told jurors. "He took advantage of their ignorance, and he misrepresented the type of powers he was going to take to the state Medicaid office."
Much of the defense-driven testimony during McCoy's trial focused on topics such as Vasquez's drug use, his unpaid loans, his repeated lies about his role in Schultz's company, and his poor treatment of women.
The discrediting campaign culminated earlier this week when two of Vasquez's former Alcoholics Anonymous sponsors referred to him in court as "a pathological liar" and someone lacking "the capacity to be honest."
Defense attorney F. Montgomery Brown chastised federal authorities in his closing arguments for failing to check out a questionable informant.
"The government was warned," Brown said. "Why they hitched their coal cart to the Vasquez Express ... I don't know."
Outside the courtroom, Brown and attorney Jerry Crawford later stopped just short of previous assertions that the case against McCoy, a Democrat, was politically motivated. U.S. Attorney Matthew Whitaker, a Republican appointed by President Bush, previously has denied any such allegation.
Whitaker declined to comment Thursday other than to note his "complete confidence in the jury system."