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Prosecutor in Pot Case Suspended, Investigated

Courts: Federal attorney is accused of lying in bid to convict former Thai lawmaker accused of smuggling.

November 27, 1998| From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — The prosecutor in a marijuana smuggling case against a onetime member of Thailand's Parliament has been suspended for a month during an investigation of his conduct.

Assistant U.S. Atty. John Lyons is accused by the defendant's lawyer of concealing the fact that a customs agent who was the chief investigator and sole grand jury witness for the prosecution took a $4,000 kickback from an informant.

The agent, Frank M. Gervacio, pleaded guilty in September to a misdemeanor charge of illegally augmenting his salary. According to court documents, Lyons tried to get Gervacio's prosecution delayed while the smuggling case was pending.

The drug defendant, Thanong Siriprechapong, is charged with smuggling 4 tons of marijuana into the United States, conspiring to smuggle 15 more tons and leading an organization that smuggled marijuana in freight containers and aboard ships between 1973 and 1987.

He was a member of Thailand's Parliament from 1983 to 1986 and from 1992 to May 1994. He also is the first Thai citizen extradited to the United States.

His lawyer, Karen Snell, is seeking dismissal of the charges because of Gervacio's conduct, which then-U.S. Atty. Michael Yamaguchi and several aides knew about for months but failed to disclose to either the defense or the trial judge.

Snell contends that Lyons, who led the prosecution team against Siriprechapong, lied to U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker about the matter.

Papers filed Tuesday by the office of Yamaguchi's successor, U.S. Atty. Robert Mueller, acknowledge that Snell has made "credible allegations of errors in prosecutorial judgment and possible post-indictment misconduct." But the prosecutor's office also said the allegations did not involve the heart of the case against Siriprechapong or justify the dismissal of the charges.

Mueller's office said Lyons has been placed on 30 days' administrative leave, with pay, while his actions are investigated.

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