Thursday, March 19, 1998

The Benton Courier

Harmon to stand trial April 13

The ex-prosecutor still hasn't been sentenced on five earlier convictions

By Jerry Breeden
Courier Staff Writer

Yet to be sentenced on five previous convictions, former 7th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Dan Harmon of Benton is to appear April 13 for what would be his second federal court trial in 10 months.

Harmon, 53, was convicted in U.S. District Court at Little Rock last June 11 on five of 11 federal grand jury indictments. The trial began May 27.

The jury found Harmon guilty of one count of racketeering, three of extortion and one of distributing marijuana.

The offenses allegedly occurred while Harmon was prosecuting attorney and, as such, overseer of the now-defunct 7th Judicial District Drug Task Force.

Each conviction carries a possible maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. However, it doesn't appear likely -- for now, at least -- that Harmon will draw the maximum.

He was found innocent of one count each of possession of a Schedule II controlled substance with the intent to distribute, extortion, conspiracy to manufacture a Schedule II controlled substance, witness tampering and retaliation against a federal informant.

From her office in Little Rock, U.S. Attorney Paula Casey said a date for Harmon's sentencing on the five convictions has not been set.

She noted that 16 days ago, on March 3, U.S. District Judge Stephen M. Reasoner directed federal probation office investigators to revise their initial presentencing report on Harmon.

Harmon's attorney, Lea Ellen Fowler of Little Rock, argued successfully for a reduction in the severity level of the offenses of which Harmon was convicted.

"That could affect the sentence Mr. Harmon will ultimately receive," said Casey. "We'll just have to wait and see how the judge rules when we go back to court on the revised presentencing report."

The memorandum ordering the revision of Harmon's presentencing report consists of 13 pages. Signed by Judge Reasoner, it also contains a notation concerning Roger Walls, former administrator of the task force under Harmon, and criminal defense attorney William Murphy.

Walls and Murphy, the document notes, were also indicted on one count each of racketeering. A motion by the government to dismiss the charges against Walls and Murphy was granted.

Last Jan. 14, the notation relates, Walls was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit extortion and acquitted of another.

As for Murphy, the memorandum states that in exchange for his guilty plea "in a separate criminal proceeding, all charges pending against him in the present case were dismissed."

Harmon probably will remain in federal custody at the Pulaski County Detention Facility in Little Rock until his latest trial next month before U.S. District Judge Henry Woods.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Stripling -- who prosecuted Harmon during the first trial last spring -- will present the government's latest case against the former prosecutor for Saline, Grant and Hot Spring counties.

He will be tried on four drug related indictments returned by a federal grand jury last October. The indictments accuse Harmon of twice using a telephone in the course of carrying out drug transactions and of twice being in possession of methamphetamine-cocaine hydrochloride with the intent to deliver.

The phone-connected charges each carries a penalty of no more than eight years in the penitentiary, plus a maximum fine of $60,000.

The possession-with-intent charges are each punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of no more than $1 million.

In addition, Stripling is asking that an enhancement use be added to the charges.

That could extend the maximum total penalty possible by 10 years.

The latest indictments stem from Harmon's alleged activities while he was on home-detention release pending sentencing on the June convictions.

Stipulations prior to his release included that he wear an electronic tracking device on his ankle. He was to travel only to and from work and was not to leave Saline County.

During most of the time Harmon was on release, he worked as a laborer helping clean up the eastern part of the county where a killer-tornado touched down the previous March.

Using information gathered through wiretaps, FBI agents arrested Harmon in Conway last Oct. 4.

Special Agent Cheryl Schaller at the time said federal authorities had taped conversations between Harmon and a girlfriend, Patricia Vaughn.

The indictment reflects that on the night of Oct. 3, Harmon left a telephoned message on Vaughn's answering machine. He allegedly said "he had obtained the methamphetamine and would be bringing it to her apartment in Conway ..."

The document also states that Vaughn returned Harmon's call and that he "confirmed that he had obtained the methamphetamine and would drive to Conway ...bringing the methamphetamine with him for their use the next morning."

FBI agents were waiting for Harmon when he arrived at the apartment complex, Schaller said.

She said Harmon broke and ran as agents approached him. She said he dived into a pond on the complex grounds. Seconds later, with agents standing at water's edge, Harmon stood up, Schaller said.

She said Harmon was standing waist-deep in the water, then waded to the bank and surrendered to the waiting agents. He was still wearing the tracking device.

The federal officers reported finding only an ink pen wrapped in aluminum foil when they searched Harmon. They also quoted Vaughn as saying Harmon used foil to smoke methamphetamine.

A search of the vehicle Harmon allegedly had driven to Conway produced a bottle of urine, agents said. They found no drugs on Harmon or in the vehicle, Schaller noted.

Copyright 1998 American Publishing Co.