Pubdate: Thu, 24 Jun 1999
Source: Reuters
Copyright: 1999 Reuters Limited.


SAN FRANCISCO - A deal is in the works which could free a
former member of Thailand's Parliament jailed in the United States on
charges of being a major drug trafficker, his lawyer said Thursday.

Attorney Karen Snell said prosecutors had made "a very generous offer"
to settle the case against Thanong Siriprechapong, whose 1991
indictment on drug trafficking charges was undermined by the
disclosure that a U.S. Customs investigator in the case took $4,000
from an informant.

"There is a deal in the works, although I cannot tell you it will
definitely happen," Snell said, adding that U.S. District Judge Vaughn
Walker would hear the matter Tuesday.

If the deal is approved, Thanong could be sentenced to time already
served in prison, freed immediately and returned to Thailand, she said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Jacobs would not confirm the settlement
talk. "There is no deal at the moment," he said, declining any further

But Snell said the proposed deal would allow the former Thai lawmaker
to plead guilty to the least serious charge against him -- conspiracy
- -- while dropping charges relating to allegations that he was a major
organizer, supplier and shipper of Thai marijuana to the United States.

Thanong, who four years ago became the first Thai national extradited
to the United States, is currently being held in federal prison
outside San Francisco.

He was indicted by a federal grand jury in 1991 on charges of engaging
in a continuing criminal enterprise from 1973, importing four tons of
marijuana into the United States and conspiring to import 15 tons of

But the case hit a snag when Judge Walker learned that U.S. Customs
Service Special Agent Frank Gervacio, the lead agent in the
investigation, had accepted $4,000 and a pair of running shoes from an
informant in the case.

Gervacio was given the money in August 1992, several months after
informant Michael Woods received a $110,875 bounty payment from
Customs at Gervacio's request for his information on Thanong.

In March, Gervacio was sentenced to probation and 100 hours community
service, while Thanong's attorneys demanded that all charges be
dismissed because Gervacio could not be trusted.

Snell said Thanong still rejected all of the charges against him, but
had decided to pursue the settlement in order to avoid any further
appeals of the case by the U.S. government.

"If we went forward we would have an excellent chance of having this
case dismissed," Snell said. "But he has been here long enough. This
is a pragmatic decision on his part."
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