Friday, June 18, 1999

U.S. circuit judges panel weighing
Harmon appeal

KIMBERLY GILLESPIE
ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

A panel of three judges in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis is considering, without oral arguments, former Prosecuting Attorney Dan Harmon's appeal of extortion, racketeering and drug convictions.
    Its decision in the case will be arrived at on the basis of briefs submitted by attorneys from both sides, according to U.S. Attorney Paula Casey.
    Four federal drug-related convictions against Harmon were affirmed by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court in January. The court was to hear arguments today in an appeal of earlier charges -- two counts of racketeering, one count of conspiring to commit extortion and one count of conspiring to distribute marijuana -- but set aside arguments about two weeks ago.
    Harmon was convicted in June on those five charges and was sentenced to eight years in prison. A federal judge also ordered him to pay $16,000 in restitution to victims of two extortion schemes and a $25,000 fine.
    Harmon's attorney, Lea Ellen Fowler, contended in briefs submitted in January that there was not enough evidence to convict Harmon of racketeering or extortion.
    She also argued that anyone who testified against Harmon in exchange for a plea bargain was in violation of the Arkansas Rules of Professional Conduct. The rules prohibit lawyers from offering or promising "anything of value for the testimony under oath."
    "The government's case against Dan Harmon was presented through it's conventional parade of convicted felons, drug offenders and career criminals," she wrote in a brief filed in December 1998. The racketeering charge related to his using his office as 7th Judicial District prosecuting attorney as an illegal crime organization to obtain money and drugs.
    The first extortion charge dealt with Harmon demanding $50,000 from drug dealers Kay LaJean O'Brien and Freddie McCaslin in exchange for the dismissal of drug charges against McCaslin.
    The second charge related to the case of Ernest Varnado, a Texan arrested on drug possession charges as he traveled through the 7th Judicial District. Harmon and Roger Walls, former head of the district's drug task force, picked up Varnado at his Fort Worth home and jailed him in Arkansas. They received a cash payment later and demanded more payments.
    Walls was convicted on this charge in January 1998.
    The third extortion charge was based on Harmon's demanding $10,000 from another drug defendant, Patrick Davis of Indiana. Davis' wife, Tina, testified during the trial in May 1998 that she got the money from her mother and brought it to Arkansas where Harmon told her she would either have to give him more money or have sex with him.
    The drug charge Harmon is appealing involved the sale of 117 pounds of marijuana discovered in a car during a traffic stop.
    In January, the 8th Circuit Court upheld four other drug-related convictions against Harmon, stemming from his arrest October 1997 near his girlfriend's Conway apartment while he was on supervised release with electronic monitoring and awaiting sentencing for the convictions now on appeal.
   Harmon, who was supposed to stay in Saline County while released, jumped into a pond when FBI agents attempted to arrest him. He was convicted in April 1998 of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, attempting to distribute methamphetamine and two counts of using a telephone in a drug transaction.
    As prosecuting attorney, Harmon was responsible for Saline, Grant and Hot Spring counties in 1979 and 1980 and again from 1991 until 1996 when he was forced to resign in a plea agreement resolving a set of state charges.

Copyright 1999, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc. All rights reserved.

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