March 21, 2000, by DEBORAH TEDFORD
Copyright 2000 Houston Chronicle
A federal judge in Houston must decide whether to hold three other federal jurists and high-level Justice Department employees in contempt for submitting false evidence in a case that has kept a CIA employee imprisoned since 1982.
Ex-CIA operative Edwin Wilson asked U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes to issue contempt citations against 17 current and former government attorneys or top CIA officials. All helped prosecute him in 1982 for smuggling explosives to Libya.
Justice Department attorneys have acknowledged using an affidavit from then-CIA Executive Director Charles Briggs even though they knew it was false.
The affidavit, which stated that Wilson did no work for the CIA after his 1971 retirement, was characterized as a crucial piece of evidence by jurors, Justice Department trial attorneys and Wilson's appellate attorney.
"It shredded any possibility of the jury thinking that the government had actually asked him to do this," said David Adler.
Among those who played a role in Wilson's case and could now be cited for contempt are U.S. District Judges D. Lowell Jensen and Stanley Sporkin, who recently took senior status; Stephen S. Trott, who sits on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Houston attorney Dan Hedges, who was U.S. attorney in Houston during Wilson's trial and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Powers, a federal prosecutor in Houston.
Justice Department spokesman John Russell refused to comment on the contempt
A request that Wilson's conviction be overturned was filed with the motion. In it, Adler contends that 22 government documents show that prosecutors and CIA officials knew before the jury verdict, and verified after the verdict, that the affidavit was false.
In January federal prosecutors acknowledged the government knowingly submitted a false affidavit to help convict Wilson. But they say he's not entitled to a new trial because the bogus evidence was inconsequential and unrelated to the charges.
The Justice Department maintained the ex-agent shipped arms to Libya from Texas and Virginia and had plotted the murder of the New York prosecutor who spearheaded the cases. Wilson was sentenced to 52 years in prison.
If Hughes overturns Wilson's conviction in the Texas case, Adler said the other two cases could crumble.
Wilson could be eligible for mandatory release if the cases are overturned, Adler said.
At the core of the Texas arms-smuggling case was the CIA's claim that Wilson had done no work for the agency after his Feb. 28, 1971, retirement.
But prosecutors now admit Wilson had at least 80 "nonsocial" contacts with CIA personnel after his retirement, according to documents filed by the government.
Adler speculated prosecutors used the affidavit when plans to call an expert witness went awry.
The expert, referred to in court documents by the pseudonym "Larson" and later identified as the then-chief of the CIA's Information Management Section, was not called to testify because the trial judge refused a government request to limit his questioning by the defense.
According to documents released to Wilson under the federal Freedom of Information Act, "Larson" had told prosecutors the agency would "deal with the devil" if need be.
"Larson" also acknowledged the CIA might consider providing 40,000 pounds of
explosives to someone in Libya if "great" information could be obtained.
Then-U.S. District Judge Ross Sterling allowed the government to submit an affidavit from CIA Director Briggs because of security concerns, even though he could not be cross-examined.
Briggs' affidavit stated, "Wilson was not asked or requested, directly or indirectly, to perform or provide any services, directly or indirectly, for the CIA" after Wilson's 1971 retirement.
Court documents state that CIA attorneys, concerned about the accuracy of the affidavit, urged Justice Department prosecutors not to use it in the trial. But prosecutors insisted it was the backbone of their case
Adler has asked Hughes to enter a finding that Wilson's conviction was illegally obtained through the prosecutors' knowing use of perjured testimony.