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Meese, Former Reagan Officials Expected to Testify : Nofziger Trial Opens; 24 on Witness List

January 12, 1988|ROBERT L. JACKSON | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The secretary of the Army, the former secretary of the Navy and the former chief of the Small Business Administration are among 24 witnesses who may be called by prosecutors to testify about alleged lobbying violations involving Lyn Nofziger, President Reagan's former political director, it was disclosed Monday at the opening of Nofziger's federal court trial.

The three past and present Reagan Administration officials will round out a list of witnesses headed by Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III, who prosecutors previously announced will be summoned. Nofziger is charged with four ethics violations in connection with his post-government lobbying for Wedtech Corp., a scandal-rocked defense contractor, and two other clients.

Nofziger, 63, sporting his traditional rumpled look and wearing a trademark Mickey Mouse necktie around an unbuttoned collar, shook hands with spectators and declared: "I think we're going to win this thing."

Stroke Question

U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Flannery began the laborious process of selecting a jury, which is expected to take three to four days. Potential jurors were asked to answer a 10-page questionnaire on their occupations, backgrounds and political attitudes, a form that included the question: "Have you or any relative or close friend ever had a stroke? If so, please explain."

Nofziger's attorneys have said that their client will defend himself against one ethics charge--that he wrote a letter on behalf of Wedtech to then-White House aide James E. Jenkins in May, 1982--on grounds that Nofziger had just been released from the hospital after suffering a stroke. Nofziger does not recall sending such a letter and does not believe that the purported signature is his, the lawyers said.

Federal conflict-of-interest laws forbid former high government officials such as Nofziger to contact former close colleagues on behalf of a business client for 12 months after leaving federal service.

Military Contracts

The four lobbying charges facing Nofziger all occurred during 1982, soon after he resigned as White House director of political affairs in January of that year. Two of his approaches involved military contracts for Wedtech and the others involved Fairchild Industries Inc., another military contractor, and the Marine Engineers Beneficial Assn., a maritime union, according to his indictment.

If convicted on all counts, he could face maximum punishment of eight years in prison and $40,000 in fines. Nofziger is being tried along with his business partner, Mark A. Bragg, who faces a lesser charge of aiding and abetting one of Nofziger's lobbying contacts for the now-bankrupt Wedtech.

More than 16 persons have been accused of or have pleaded guilty to committing criminal wrongdoing related to Wedtech's efforts to buy influence with the Reagan Administration as it sought large military contracts.

No-Bid Contract

Army Secretary John O. Marsh Jr. is expected to testify about Nofziger's successful attempt, through White House officials, to obtain a no-bid $32-million Army engine contract for the small Bronx-based firm. Former Navy Secretary John F. Lehman Jr. is scheduled to testify similarly about a major Navy pontoon contract awarded to the firm.

Former SBA Administrator James C. Sanders is on the prosecution's witness list to answer questions about the relationship of Nofziger's White House lobbying to the agency's decision to grant financial aid to Wedtech as a purported minority-owned business. Four Wedtech officials are facing fraud charges on grounds that the "minority" contention was untrue.

Meese, who was White House counselor in 1982, and two aides at the time--Jenkins and Craig Fuller--are apparently on the witness list to testify about a White House meeting arranged by Meese's office that included SBA and Wedtech officials, along with representatives of the Army.

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