Saturday, April 12, 1997

    Ex-prosecutor faces 11 charges

    Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

    Former Prosecuting Attorney Dan Harmon ran his office as a criminal enterprise for six years, demanded money in return for dropping charges, possessed stolen drugs and assaulted a newspaper reporter, according to a federal indictment released Friday.
    A federal grand jury in Little Rock charged Harmon, 52, of Benton, Sheridan businessman Roger C. Walls and Sheridan attorney William A. Murphy with violating the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act. The racketeering count targeting Harmon contains accusations of 11 separate crimes. He is also charged separately for 10 of the crimes.
    "In reality, the defendants operated the Seventh Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney's Office as a conduit to obtain monetary benefits to themselves and others, and to participate in and conceal criminal activities,'' the indictment states.
    Harmon as prosecutor, Walls as administrator of the 7th Judicial District Drug Task Force and Murphy as a defense attorney were the indictment's main targets. Harmon's office was home to the task force, which covered Saline, Grant and Hot Spring counties, until its demise in January 1996.
    On Friday, Harmon characterized the charges as "pretty fantastic'' and "something out of Alice in Wonderland.'' He denied all of the allegations.
    "I thought I would be arrested and go to jail today,'' Harmon said.
    No arrest warrant was issued, and Harmon arrived on his own at the federal courts building in Little Rock and received a summons to appear next week for arraignment. Asked if he would plead guilty to any of the charges, he responded, "How are you going to plead guilty to something you didn't do?''
    Harmon indicated that he would represent himself and said he would not accept any restrictions on his freedom while awaiting trial.
    ''If they can stick some garbage like this on me, than every American ought to be afraid,'' Harmon said. "We don't have a democracy; we have a federal bureaucracy that's out of control.''
    Harmon faces one charge of racketeering, two of possession with the intent to distribute cocaine hydrochloride, four of conspiracy to extort money, two of conspiracy to manufacture drugs, one of witness tampering and one of retaliation against a witness.
    The witness allegedly retaliated against is Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Benton bureau chief Rodney Bowers, who investigated and wrote about Harmon's activities and the drug task force throughout 1995 and 1996.
    "Articles written by Bowers were routinely reviewed by federal authorities investigating Harmon and activities within the Seventh Judicial District,'' the indictment states.
    Harmon assaulted Bowers on May 31, 1996, after Bowers approached the then-prosecutor seeking comment for an article about forfeiture of property seized by the drug task force.
    "We expect the law to take its course,'' said Griffin Smith, jr., the paper's executive editor.
    The conspiracy to extort charges deal with sums of money up to $100,000.
    In one incident described in the indictment, a woman named Tina Davis traveled to Arkansas from Indiana to deliver $10,000 to Harmon to free her husband, who had been arrested in Saline County on marijuana charges.
    When she arrived, the indictment says, Harmon advised Davis her husband would not be released unless she obtained more money or had sex with the prosecutor. The man was later released for $10,000 and the couple was forced to sign a disclaimer saying they had been arrested with the money and had no claim to it, the indictment continued.
    Jack Lassiter, a Little Rock attorney representing Walls, said his client will plead innocent to the charges and ask for a jury trial. Walls, 47, faces one charge of conspiracy to manufacture drugs, two counts of conspiracy to extort money, one count of making a false statement to a financial institution and one count of money laundering as well as the racketeering charge.
    "It looks to me like we're going to spend a long time on cross-examination with some of these government witnesses,'' Lassiter said.
    Murphy, a 50-year-old defense attorney, faces two allegations of conspiring to extort money and one of bank fraud on top of his racketeering charge. He did not return a message left at his law office, and no one answered subsequent phone calls.
    Harmon and Murphy are accused of inducing a defendant to pay them $100,000 to get a reduced sentence and charges dismissed. The defendant was released on bond and distributed drugs to raise the money, paying about $88,000, according to the indictment. Harmon and Walls also were accused of extorting $5,500 from a Texas man in 1993 and 1994.
    The indictment also accuses Harmon and Murphy of extorting $50,000 from a man arrested on drug charges in return for dropping the charges.
    The indictment also charges Holly DuVall, Harmon's ex-wife, with knowing about the commission of a felony and not reporting it. That charge carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison, a $250,000 fine or both.
    Friday's indictment accused Harmon and DuVall of breaking into a drug task force evidence locker and stealing more than one kilogram of cocaine in October 1995. DuVall was not charged in that crime.
    DuVall previously faced more serious felonies: possession of about 1.1 kilograms of cocaine and conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine over a seven-year period.
    Those drug charges against DuVall were vacated by Friday's superseding indictment. U.S. Attorney Paula Casey refused to comment on the reason for the reduction in DuVall's charges.
    DuVall's attorney, Bill McLean, would not comment on the case Friday. Harmon and DuVall married in December 1992 and divorced three years later.
    Harmon also faces a charge of drug possession with intent to distribute for allegedly watching another man cook about 118 grams of methamphetamine and accepting half in June 1994. Another count alleges Harmon and Walls provided chemicals used by another to manufacture the drug that same month.
    Two other men face single drug charges related to the racketeering indictment.
    Arturo E. Valdez, 63, of San Antonio and John Milton Steward, 55, of Benton each were charged with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute marijuana. Valdez is the only person listed on the indictment for whom an arrest warrant was issued.
    The indictment contends that a member of the drug task force arrested Valdez in March 1993 after discovering a box containing about 117 pounds of marijuana during a traffic stop. Valdez was later freed. The indictment says that later that summer, Harmon met with Valdez and obtained a similar box which he opened with DuVall. The indictment charges that Steward weighed and then sold the marijuana, and that Harmon, Steward and DuVall shared in the money raised.
    Harmon also tried to influence a witness testifying against him before a federal grand jury in 1995 by promising a favorable treatment in state court, the indictment said.
    Two brothers from Fordyce, Thakor N. Patel and Pravin N. Patel, were each charged with one count of aiding Walls in giving a false statement to a financial institution and one count of money laundering. The Patels owned the Sherand Motel in Sheridan until the summer of 1995 when they sold it to Walls.
    According to the indictment, the negotiations over the sale included a demand by the Patels for $25,000 cash with no record made for the Internal Revenue Service. Walls obtained financing for the purchase from the National Bank of Arkansas, and asked for $35,000 more than the sale price for operating expenses, the charge continues.
    Dealing with the money laundering charges, the indictment states that the Patels aided Walls in exchanging a check for $34,007.77 for $24,707.77 in cash at the First National Bank of Sheridan.
    Luther Sutter, attorney for the Patels, said his clients dispute the charges.
    "They deny any knowledge of any statements Mr. Walls made to any financial institution,'' Sutter said.
    The defendants are scheduled to appear Wednesday morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge John F. Forster for pleas and arraignments. The case, previously assigned to U.S. District Judge Henry Woods when DuVall was the sole defendant, will now be heard by Chief U.S. District Judge Stephen M. Reasoner.
    Casey said Friday the FBI and IRS investigation into the case is continuing.
    Before he was a prosecutor, Harmon served as juvenile judge in Benton from 1975 to 1977.
    In 1978, he was elected prosecutor of Saline, Grant and Hot Spring counties. He served one term before leaving office, but later unsuccessfully ran for the office in 1984. He eventually regained the office in 1990.
    In his years as prosecutor, Harmon found himself accused of several crimes, but never was prosecuted.
    The closest he came was last year when special prosecutor Paul Bosson of Hot Springs charged him with five felonies and a misdemeanor in the assaults of Bowers, DuVall and two Saline County sheriff's employees. A plea agreement, which ensured his resignation, allowed him to escape felony charges and trial. He left office in July 1996.

    Copyright 1997, Little Rock Newspapers, Inc. All rights reserved.