Former prosecutor in terror case charged with hiding evidence

Associated Press
Published March 30, 2006

DETROIT - A former federal prosecutor and a State Department official were indicted Wednesday on charges of conspiring to conceal evidence during a botched terrorism trial that was a setback for the Bush administration.

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard G. Convertino, 45, and State Department Regional Security Officer Harry Raymond Smith III, 49, face charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false declarations.

The indictment stemmed from the prosecution of four North African immigrants accused of operating a terrorist cell in Detroit. The case was the nation's first major terrorism trial after the 2001 attacks and was hailed by the Bush administration at one point as a victory in the war on terror.

Two of the four men, Karim Koubriti and Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, were convicted in 2003 of conspiring to provide support to terrorists.

However, a federal judge overturned the verdicts at the Justice Department's request after prosecutors discovered that documents that could have helped the defense were not turned over by the government as required.

Convertino was the lead prosecutor in the case, and Smith helped in the investigation and testified for the government at the trial.

The indictment said Convertino and Smith conspired to keep from defense lawyers photographs of a Jordanian hospital that would have undermined the government's argument that the alleged Detroit cell made surveillance sketches of the place.

Convertino also elicited testimony from Smith and an FBI agent that the sketch matched the hospital and its surrounding area, even though the photographs contradicted that description, the indictment said.

Convertino said the Justice Department is using the charges to retaliate against him for a pending whistleblower lawsuit.

Moussaoui death penalty case goes to jury

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Prosecutors said al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui killed Americans on Sept. 11, 2001, by lying to federal agents weeks earlier to keep the plot secret. Defense attorneys called him an "al-Qaida hanger-on" who only dreamed he had a role in the worst terrorist attack in the nation's history.

Summarizing 10 days of testimony in a tumultuous sentencing trial, lawyers painted sharply divergent views of whether Moussaoui was responsible for any of the nearly 3,000 deaths on Sept. 11. Then the jury retired to decide whether he should be eligible for the death penalty.

They went home after an hour of deliberations.

Prosecutor David Raskin told jurors they could be sure of Moussaoui's intent "because he admitted it right here in this courtroom."

Defense attorney Edward MacMahon contended that Moussaoui had told "a plethora of lies to aggrandize himself. You can't believe anything this man says."