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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Being a Democrat Made Alabama Businessman a Target

Notes from prosecutors in the Bush Justice Department indicate an Alabama defense contractor was targeted because he is a Democrat.

Alice Martin, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, launched a four-year investigation of Axion Corp and its owner, Alex Latifi, in 2003. Latifi eventually was acquitted on charges that he violated federal arms-export laws. But while preparing for trial, his lawyers were stunned by the first entry in the lead investigator's official notebook.

"It said Latifi was a Democrat and gave $30,000 to a Democratic politician's charity for abused children," said Jim Barger, an associate at the Birmingham law firm Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz.

The revelation comes in "The Curious Case of Alex Latifi," an investigative report by Lynda Edwards in the October issue of the Journal of the American Bar Association (ABA).

We noted in a previous post that the ABA Journal article shows that Martin and her prosecution team wanted to ruin Latifi's business, even if he was innocent of the charges against him.

Edwards goes behind the scenes to show how a prosecutor in the Bush Justice Department carries out a politically motivated prosecution. How insanely sloppy and bogus was Alice Martin's case? Consider:

* The prosecution's chief witness, former Axion secretary Elizabeth Lemay, had been fired from the company in February 2004 for stealing $12,730. She admitted on the witness stand that she had altered and sabotaged company files and computer records;

* The court received letters on behalf of another scheduled witness--from her husband, her doctor, and a psychologist--saying she was too mentally unstable to testify;

* A government attorney for an agency that helped search for evidence against Latifi was barred from the courtroom for threatening and bizarre behavior toward the defense;

* The fundamental charge against Latifi was that he had sent a classified drawing to a Chinese supplier. But at trial, a government witness was asked to examine the drawing in question and determine if he saw any noteworthy stampings. "On the bottom left," he replied, "it does say 'unclassified.'"

In other words, prosecutors charged Latifi with sending a classified document to a foreign supplier, but they never noticed that their own exhibit showed the document was clearly marked "unclassified."

That's not the only moment of black comedy in Edwards' story. When she contacted Department of Justice spokesman Dean Boyd, he said, "You should not be writing about this case! It's weird! It's an anomaly! It's a weird anomaly!"

The aftermath of the Latifi case might not be so amusing for Alice Martin & Co. A federal judge has awarded Latifi $364,000 in legal fees. Latifi has sued to obtain Martin's e-mails, memos, and phone records regarding the case. And the U.S. Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating charges that the Latifi case was an improper and abusive prosecution.

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