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Justice Dept. Tapped Phones in Home, Chambers of Judge, Attorney Charges

June 10, 1989|DAN MORAIN | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — The Justice Department placed wiretaps on telephones in U.S. District Judge Robert Aguilar's chambers and home as part of its inquiry into the judge's actions in 1987 and 1988, Aguilar's lawyer said Friday.

Attorney Charles Garry, while chastising the government for "leaks" about its pending case, said Aguilar could be indicted as early as next week on charges of racketeering.

"I think it stinks," Garry declared, referring to what he said was the government's eavesdropping on the federal judge's private chambers.

Publicity Called Inflammatory

Garry filed papers in federal court Friday asking that all grand jury proceedings be halted and any charges be postponed because of "inflammatory publicity generated by the government's violation of the rule of grand jury secrecy." The lawyer requested a hearing to determine sources of any leaks and to issue sanctions against such sources.

Justice Department attorneys could not be reached.

The department's Public Integrity Section, which investigates wrongdoing by federal judges, has been considering bringing racketeering charges against the judge, court documents show.

Although details of the charge are not known, Aguilar, 58, appointed in 1980 to the lifetime job, failed to accurately report a $12,000 loan from former Nevada casino owner Ronald V. Cloud on his financial disclosure statements, those statements show.

Influence Attempt Alleged

He also is said to have tried--without success--to influence another judge. And a former client of Aguilar who fled to Mexico in 1980 rather than serve a prison term in a tax evasion case recently was arrested and is a potential witness against him.

Garry speculated that the Justice Department investigation may stem from government displeasure with Aguilar--a "very decent human being" and a "man with compassion and a heart."

"Sometimes the Justice Department isn't interested in those kinds of judges," he said.

Garry, 80, is a longtime defender of radical causes and clients, ranging from labor leaders and alleged Communists during congressional investigations in the 1940s and 1950s to Black Panthers in the 1960s and 1970s and Armenian immigrants accused of terrorism in the 1980s. Patrick Hallinan, a highly regarded defense lawyer, also is representing Aguilar.

Garry raised the possibility that in addition to telephone taps, the government placed eavesdropping equipment in Aguilar's chambers or that a witness against him wore a recording device.

Communications Monitored

The attorney read from a document that the Justice Department had sent to Aguilar on May 10 that says Aguilar's "oral" communications were monitored during two 30-day periods from December, 1987, to January, 1988, and from April to May, 1988.

The document also says the Justice Department received court authorization to intercept "wire communications" during April, September, October and December of 1987 and in January, April and May of 1988.

Garry said he assumes from reading the document that the wiretaps included eavesdropping on the judge while he was in his court chambers. Garry read from the document but would not allow reporters to inspect it.

Garry said the document indicates that the Aguilar investigation began at least in early 1987. At the same time, investigators in the Justice Department's Organized Crime Strike Force were tapping the phones of several organized crime figures as part of an investigation of Angelo Commito, a California businessman.

Commito, who was indicted last year in a scheme to defraud union health-care funds, has not been linked to Aguilar.

However, Abe Chapman, 83, and Michael Rudy Tham, 69, who were targets in the early part of the Commito investigation, figure prominently in the pending Aguilar case, suggesting that the Aguilar investigation may have spun off from the Commito investigation.

Chapman, a longtime associate of underworld figures in California and Chicago, is related to Aguilar through marriage and is a good friend of Tham.

Chapman is said to have asked Aguilar to approach Senior U.S. District Judge Stanley Weigel, who in 1988 was considering whether to revoke Tham's probation.

Weigel is not suspected of wrongdoing. He removed himself from Tham's case in April, 1988, when Aguilar's conversations were being monitored. Weigel has not publicly discussed whether Aguilar approached him on Tham's behalf.

Tham was on probation for a 1980 conviction on charges of embezzling $2,000 from a Teamsters Union local in San Francisco that he ran. In 1988, Strike Force attorneys were trying to revoke Tham's probation because the FBI observed him associating with former felons, including Chapman, in 1987 and 1988.

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