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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

"We decided to have dinner, and while we were waiting outside (the restaurant), the old man showed up with his bride-to-be. Well, he started screaming and yelling and chewed the kid up and down and sideways for something that had happened earlier. It was quite a scene and it rattled the hell out of the kid. He never did recover the rest of the night. He just looked beat."

No smile crossed Junior's face recently in Florida when he was asked if if he had ever been afraid of his father. He answered slowly, somewhat grimly: "My father can be very intimidating at times."

While at liberty on his $125,000 bail, Junior has continued his racing career in IMSA, but he will not comment on the case, under instructions from his attorney, except to say that "I have not seen my father since November, 1983."

Phil Conte, owner of CGI Industries in Paramount, also owns the two March 85Gs, powered by prototype Buick V6 turbo engines, that Paul drives on the IMSA road racing circuit. He posted $12,500 in cash and signed a bond for the remaining $112,500 to free his driver after Junior had spent three days in jail in Jacksonville.

"We believe everything is going to be fine," Conte said. "As far as I am concerned, he is innocent. And he is my friend. I was in the Marine Corps for four years and I never deserted anyone. I'm not going to start now. I have no trouble with John Paul's name being associated with Conte Racing. And you've got to give Buick credit for sticking with us, too."

There are four charges against Paul Jr., involving specific crimes in 1979 and 1981, according to Tom Morris, assistant U.S. attorney. Two stem from earlier marijuana charges on which the Pauls were convicted in a Louisiana court. At that time, Paul Jr. pleaded guilty to the felony charges and was put on three years' probation. A third charge involves conspiracy, and a fourth involves accepting delivery of a truck allegedly loaded with marijuana.

The maximum penalty for conviction on all four counts is 50 years in prison and $80,000 in fines.

The indictment has already proven costly to the younger Paul. He lost his ride in an Indy car owned by Doug Shierson. It was considered one of the top rides for 1985 and has been taken over by Al Unser Jr.

Said Junior: "The first thing I did (after being indicted) was call Doug (Shierson) and Phil (Conte) and offer to resign. Doug accepted immediately, it took him maybe 30 seconds, but Phil wouldn't hear of it. He said he was my friend and would stand behind me.

"I don't blame Doug for what he did because I knew he had to think about his sponsors. I owe Phil a big debt. He has offered to back me for the full season and the way I understand it, whatever happens in court won't happen until the end of the year, so I'll be able to drive."

Even before his most recent indictment, Junior's career had suffered because of his father's reputation. The Ford Motor Co., when it decided to re-enter professional racing two years ago with a prototype Mustang GTP, considered Paul as one of its drivers but shied away when his father was charged with the attempted murder of Carson.

Junior, still not quite recovered from a broken left leg suffered in a crash that spring while practicing for the Indianapolis 500, had impressed them by winning the Michigan 500-mile Indy car race with a dramatic last-lap pass of Rick Mears.

Lee J. Paul, Senior's father, and four Florida men were named in the indictment with the Pauls on racketeering charges. The others are David Cassoria of Gainesville, Christopher Schill of Jacksonville, Matthew L. Powers of St. Augustine and Charles Evers of Miami.

The indictment alleges that Paul Jr. was engaged in a conspiracy with his father to launder the profits from Senior's drug trafficking.

Senior and Schill are additionally charged with digging a huge underground cave near Corinth, Ga., southwest of Atlanta, where, according to the indictment, they planned to grow marijuana plants in an artificial environment. It is alleged that they spent more than $300,000 to build the 200 x 40-foot underground room, including $40,000 for grow-lights and $40,000 for a diesel generator. Fuel for the generators came from tanks buried beneath the room.

Access to the underground plantation was through a steel-reinforced 25-foot tunnel beneath an old barn. Authorities estimated that $4 million worth of marijuana a year could be grown there.

"Senior gave a new dimension to the meaning of Underground Atlanta," wrote Norm Froscher of the Gainesville Sun.

Federal authorities also said they believed Paul had used the cavern as a hideout during part of the time he was being sought after jumping bail.

Until Senior disappeared, headquarters of the J.P.L. racing team were in Lawrenceville, Ga., northeast of Atlanta. Junior has since moved to West Palm Beach, Fla., where he lives with his wife, Trish, and their newborn daughter, Alexandria.

John Bishop, president of IMSA, said he supported Conte and Paul in their desire to continue racing.

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