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Thursday, January 2, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Defendant Says Government Drug Charges Are Part Of Vendetta

AP

TACOMA - The government is pursuing drug charges against a former Tacoma man because he provided valuable testimony in a case of reported government theft of software, his attorney told a jury.

Attorney Tom Olmstead said in opening statements Tuesday that Michael Riconosciuto is the victim of a government plot.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Bartlett said it was a straightforward case involving the illegal manufacture and distribution of methamphetamines and methadone.

The trial, which continues today before U.S. District Judge Robert J. Bryan, could have ramifications on the long-running Inslaw case, for which a federal special prosecutor recently was appointed.

Inslaw is a Washington, D.C., software company that developed special software, known as PROMIS, to be used by the Justice Department for tracking and managing federal court cases.

Inslaw has charged it was forced into bankruptcy by the Justice Department, which then pirated the software and made it available to other countries.

A federal bankruptcy judge in Washington, D.C., who later was dismissed from the bench, ruled the Reagan administration had stolen the sensitive software "through fraud, trickery and deceit." The ruling later was affirmed by a U.S. District judge.

REPORTER FOUND DEAD

The Inslaw case received widespread mention last summer when free-lance journalist Danny Casolaro, who had been investigating the case, was found dead in a West Virginia motel room.

Casolaro told friends he had found evidence of a wide-ranging conspiracy. West Virginia officials ruled Casolaro's death a suicide.

Among the witnesses expected to be called by Riconosciuto's defense team are former U.S. Attorney General Elliot Richardson, who represents Inslaw in the PROMIS case, and Bill Hamilton, president of Inslaw.

Riconosciuto was arrested in late March. Prosecutors claim he ran a methamphetamine manufacturing operation near Tonasket in Okanogan County.

Olmstead asserted that the chemicals found at the site were used for extracting platinum from mining wastes.

DEAL ALLEGEDLY TAPED

Tuesday, jurors saw videotapes of Riconosciuto purportedly selling methamphetamine and methadone to an informant who was working with federal and state narcotics agents.

Olmstead indicated the defense plans to challenge the videotapes and audio recordings that were made of Riconosciuto's meetings. He said he would provide expert testimony that such recordings can be altered.

Riconosciuto's arrest came a week after his affidavit was filed in the Inslaw case.

In the affidavit, Riconosciuto claimed he had been threatened with prosecution by a Justice Department official if he cooperated with congressional investigators probing the alleged theft of the computer software.

Riconosciuto said he modified Inslaw's software after it was given to him by Earl W. Brian, an associate of former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese.

Riconosciuto is facing 10 charges of violating federal narcotics laws: one count each of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamines, conspiracy to distribute methamphetamines and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamines; and seven counts of various distributions of methamphetamines and methadone.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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