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O.J. Simpson's Home Raided in Drug, Theft Ring Inquiry

Law: Former murder defendant is not arrested. Search is part of probe into Ecstasy sales and counterfeit access cards.

December 05, 2001|JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MIAMI — Federal authorities and Florida police searched the suburban home of O.J. Simpson during a predawn raid Tuesday while investigating an international drug ring and the theft of satellite TV programming.

The former football star and onetime murder defendant, who was in a white bathrobe when he greeted officers, was not arrested. Simpson's lawyer said he was targeted simply because a suspect had mentioned his name during a wiretapped conversation.

"There were no illegal substances found in Mr. Simpson's home," attorney Yale Galanter said at an impromptu news conference on the street outside. "There is no reason to believe that Mr. Simpson committed any crime at all."

According to federal officials, the search was carried out as part of a two-year investigation code-named Operation X. Initially a probe into money-laundering, it developed into an investigation of a transatlantic Ecstasy drug ring and the theft of equipment to counterfeit access cards for satellite TV.

"When you're doing pay-per-view, for the big fight on TV, these cards permit you to bypass the system," said one U.S. official, who requested anonymity. "They result in the theft of services worth millions of dollars."

FBI spokeswoman Judy Orihuela said that nine people were arrested in Miami and two in Chicago on Tuesday as part of the investigation. Authorities also searched nine other South Florida residences in connection with the case. Orihuela said that a suspected ringleader remains at large and is believed to be in Brazil.

Federal officials said that several thousand Ecstasy pills produced in the Netherlands either had been confiscated or purchased by undercover agents. Orihuela said the group had laundered about $800,000.

"I can assure you, Mr. Simpson does not have enough money in his pocket or in his bank account to be involved in a money-laundering ring," Galanter told reporters.

At 6 a.m., Simpson's sprawling home in the Miami suburb of Kendall was raided by representatives of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Miami-Dade Police Department and the Florida Highway Patrol, which brought its drug-sniffing dogs. A TV news helicopter captured videotape of Simpson, in his robe, leading officers around his backyard and playing with his dogs.

Agents carried away at least two boxes of Simpson's belongings. Orihuela refused to comment on what they had seized, but Galanter said it was legal satellite TV equipment that Simpson had brought when he moved to Miami from California last year.

"The investigators found absolutely nothing of any consequence," the lawyer said.

The usually garrulous Simpson did not speak to the gaggle of reporters assembled on his block. Galanter said he had advised his client to keep quiet.

The search lasted more than six hours. After about two hours, Simpson--who lives with his two teenage children--left in his Lincoln Navigator.

On Oct. 24, Simpson was found not guilty by a Miami-Dade jury of committing an act of road rage while driving the SUV. Another motorist had claimed that Simpson grabbed his glasses and scratched his face during a heated roadside argument.

Simpson also was acquitted in Los Angeles in the 1994 slayings of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman. Simpson later was found liable for the deaths in a civil trial and ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages.

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