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Thursday, March 8, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Prosecutors mix up same-name men in Mardi Gras charges

Seattle Times staff reporter

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King County prosecutors yesterday said a man charged with rioting at last week's Mardi Gras melee in Pioneer Square is not the same man convicted of attempted murder for a drive-by shooting in Cowlitz County.

The mix-up means the charges against 19-year-old Van Veth, for allegedly brandishing a pistol during the melee, could be significantly reduced.

"We're still looking into how this occurred, but it does appear there are two different Van Veths, and the one from Cowlitz County is in prison," King County prosecutor's spokesman Dan Donohoe said.

Prosecutors charged the 19-year-old Veth late Monday with one felony count of armed rioting and one count of unlawful possession of a firearm. The firearm charge was based on the assumption that he had a felony conviction for attempted murder. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Charging papers accuse Veth of pointing a loaded .45-caliber handgun at the Pioneer Square crowd. Bicycle-patrol officers cornered him, aimed their guns at him and ordered him to drop the weapon.

In asking for $200,000 bail for Veth, prosecutors cited a 1997 attempted-murder conviction as evidence that Veth is a danger to the community.

Prosecutors said they had entered Veth's name through a state-court computer system and found the attempted-murder conviction, Donohoe said. They assumed that because Veth was at Mardi Gras, he must have been out on bail while appealing his conviction.

But early yesterday, the Cowlitz County prosecutor called the King County prosecutor's office to say that the Van Veth from the 1997 case, a gang-related drive-by shooting in Kelso, was locked up.

State Department of Corrections records show that the Van Veth in prison is 23 and is not expected to be released until at least 2015. He was 19 when convicted.

Authorities didn't know whether the two are relatives.

Late yesterday, prosecutors were still running the younger Veth through the computer system to find out whether he has a criminal history, Donohoe said. A search found only one traffic ticket.

If they find no felony convictions, authorities may be forced to drop the firearm charge or reduce it to a less-serious charge.

Ian Ith can be reached at 206-464-2109 or iith@seattletimes.com.

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