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Promising Driver John Paul Jr. Is Accused of Aiding Father in Smuggling Ring, Making It. . . : A Rough Road Ahead

March 10, 1985|SHAV GLICK | Times Staff Writer

Pleas of not guilty because of insanity are commonplace in courts of law these days, but John Paul Jr. may have a new defense plea: not guilty by reason of fright.

Paul, 25, one of America's most promising young race car drivers, will answer charges Monday in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville, Fla., that he was a member of a marijuana smuggling ring headed by his father, John Paul Sr., 45.

The elder Paul, also a race driver of international repute, is in jail in Geneva, Switzerland, awaiting extradition on a charge of attempted first-degree murder of a witness in a federal drug investigation. He also faces 17 other racketeering charges related to conspiracy, drug trafficking, laundering illegal profits and jumping bail.

Federal authorities claim that Paul Sr. was responsible for bringing more than 200,000 pounds of marijuana from Colombia into the United States for a five-year period ending in 1981.

Both Pauls are champion drivers who burst upon the auto racing scene in rapid succession in the late '70s. Senior, a Dutch immigrant who came to this country at 15 and later made a fortune on Wall Street, won the world endurance championship in 1978 and 1980. Junior won the 1982 International Motor Sports Assn. Camel GT series with a remarkable total of nine wins, one in the 24 Hours of Daytona, with his father and the late Rolf Stommelen of West Germany as his co-drivers.

In April of 1983, Paul Sr. was indicted by a federal grand jury of trying to obstruct the grand jury's drug investigation by shooting Stephen Carson, a federal witness and one of Paul's former associates.

On Dec. 13, 1983, Paul Sr. failed to appear in a St. Augustine, Fla., state court for trial on the attempted murder charge and forfeited a $500,000 bond. An arrest warrant was issued and a world-wide hunt was conducted by FBI agents working through Interpol, the international police agency.

Carson, the man Paul is accused of having tried to kill, told authorities after he had recovered from his gunshot wounds that he was desperately afraid of Paul and would never have fingered him as a marijuana trafficker.

"I knew he'd kill anyone who said anything about what he was doing," Carson said. "But he got the wrong guy. I was too afraid of him to say anything, but I guess he thought it was me anyway."

Carson was shot five times in the back and legs with a .38 caliber revolver as he returned from a fishing trip off the north Florida coast. The shooting occurred on a boat ramp in Crescent Beach, near St. Augustine.

Paul Sr. disappeared after the shooting but surrendered June 27, 1983, and pleaded not guilty to the attempted-murder charge. Circuit Judge Richard Weinberg ordered him held in lieu of $500,000 bond, which was posted July 7. Then Paul did not show up for the trial.

Paul Sr., wearing a disguise, was apprehended last Jan. 11 while entering a Swiss bank with his wife, Hope. Junior was indicted three days later.A number of racing people believe that the main reason Junior was indicted so soon after his father's arrest in Switzerland was to prompt the elder Paul to waive extradition and return to the United States to help clear his son.

Hope Paul also has a racing background. Her brother is Hurley Haywood, a four-time winner of the Daytona 24-hour race and also a winner in the 24 Hours of LeMans.

The central figure in the case, however, is John Paul Sr., a man used to doing things his way, and used to having others do them his way, too.

"Senior is the most terrifying man I have ever met," said one IMSA official who observed his rantings during several seasons of competition. "Temper tantrums and wild outbursts are pretty commonplace in racing, but Senior's extend way beyond that. He is more than frightening. He is scary."

A.J. Foyt's father used to say that working for his son was something like dancing with a buzzsaw. Anyone who has witnessed one of John Paul Sr.'s tantrums, however, would probably consider dancing with a buzzsaw much safer than being in the vicinity of an enraged Paul.

According to an eyewitness, Senior once stormed into his office at J.P.L. Racing in Lawrenceville, Ga., and scaled a full briefcase across the room the way beach boys toss Frisbees. It crashed against the wall with a terrible clatter.

"If it had hit a secretary, it would have taken her head off," said the witness. "And I know he never looked before he threw. He could have killed someone."

Promoter Steve Earwood recalled an incident in the father-son relationship that occurred at a Camel GT race at Road Atlanta three years ago:

"The kid had just won the pole and we had him on a radio show and everyone was in a good mood. He was with some Miller (beer) people who were going to sponsor him in the race, and he couldn't have been happier.

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