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  Jury Says Harding Acquired Funding by Fraud

By Johnette Howard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 22, 1994; Page A1




An Oregon grand jury stated yesterday there was evidence that figure skater Tonya Harding participated in the plot to attack rival figure skater Nancy Kerrigan and fraudulently used skating monies provided her by the U.S. Figure Skating Association to finance the assault.

Because of Harding's plea bargain Wednesday with Multnomah County (Ore.) authorities and former husband Jeff Gillooly's separate agreement on Feb. 1, neither Harding nor Gillooly was indicted yesterday along with her onetime bodyguard Shawn Eckardt, getaway car driver Derrick B. Smith and hit man Shane Stant.

According to the indictment, Eckardt, Smith and Stant agreed with Harding and Gillooly "to unlawfully, intentionally and knowingly cause physical injury to Nancy Kerrigan by means of a dangerous weapon" — the retractable metal baton Stant used to club Kerrigan on her right leg on Jan. 6, minutes after she finished a practice at Detroit's Cobo Arena.

The indictment also said the conspirators schemed to defraud the USFSA by misrepresenting Harding's skating expenses, then used those funds and others provided by the USFSA "for the purpose of hiring co-defendants Smith and Stant to assault Kerrigan."

The motive, according to the grand jury's statement, was to give Harding a better chance to win the national championship and to receive endorsements and money from sponsors.

In a statement, Harding's attorneys said the indictment "is merely an accusation. It was prepared by the district attorney and presented to a grand jury he directed and controlled. ... Harding neither appeared before the grand jury nor presented evidence in her defense."

Harding has steadfastly insisted she knew nothing about the plan until returning to Portland, Ore., Jan. 10 from the U.S. Olympic trials in Detroit. With Kerrigan out of the competition, Harding won the 1994 national title and one of the two spots on the U.S. team. The USFSA later placed Kerrigan on the Olympic team because of the circumstances of the attack. She recovered well enough to finish second at the Olympics, six slots ahead of Harding, who went to court to keep her spot on the team.

At a hastily arranged hearing Wednesday, during which she pleaded guilty to one charge of hindering the investigation, Harding and her lead attorney, Robert C. Weaver, stressed her admission of guilt extended no further than the lone felony charge.

Following yesterday's indictments, Eckardt, Smith and Stant all pleaded not guilty to charges of racketeering, assault, conspiracy to commit assault and unlawfully obtaining communications. Eckardt faces additional charges of conspiracy to hinder prosecution and hindering prosecution. Smith also was charged with conspiracy to hinder prosecution.

Multnomah County deputy district attorney Norman Frink said: "Thinking people can form their own conclusions. Based on the information that's in or will be in the public record now, I think the record speaks for itself."

Frink characterized Harding's guilty plea as "completely inconsistent with every public statement she's made on this case."

Frink said his office was amenable to striking the plea bargain with Harding last week — after talks were initiated last Monday by Harding's attorneys — because of the cost of a protracted trial and because "there were goals we wanted to accomplish in the prosecution and many of those goals were met."

In exchange for the plea, Harding received three years of supervised probation and agreed to pay $160,000 in fines and restitution; to undergo a court-ordered psychiatric exam, and to resign immediately from the USFSA and the U.S. national team.

On Feb. 1, Gillooly pleaded guilty to one charge of racketeering and promised to cooperate with investigators in exchange for a sentencing recommendation of two years in prison and a $100,000 fine. He is scheduled to be sentenced on April 1.

Claire Ferguson, president of the USFSA, was in Japan yesterday attending the world championships and was unavailable for comment about the grand jury's findings that Harding misused USFSA funds.

The USFSA intends to proceed with its long-delayed disciplinary hearing against Harding when the temporary restraining order she won expires on June 27, Pensinger said. The organization hasn't ruled out stripping Harding of the 1994 national title she won in Kerrigan's absence or seeking reimbursement of USFSA training funds or legal fees.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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