Returning triumphantly to the town that gave him both wealth and social status, R.J. Reynolds heir Smith Bagley today blamed his legal woes on "overzealous" prosecutors and "intimidation" of the government by the press.
"Too often, the rich and the famous serve as delicious targets for a hungry prosecutor," Bagley, now a Washington resident, said at a press conference.
On Wednesday, a U.S. District Court jury in Richmond found Bagley and four other defendants innocent of all criminal charges in a stock manipulation and conspiracy case brought by the U.S. government.
The government alleged that between Feb. 1, 1974 and April 15, 1975 the five conspired to manipulate the stock of Washington Group Inc., a textile and food conglomerate located here. The company went bankrupt in June 1977.
At his press conference, Bagley demurred when pressed by reporters for the names of the "hungry prosecutor" and/or the "national columnists" referred to in his prepared statement.
But it appeared that Bagley was at least in part referring to a story in the March 9 issue of The Washington Post. That article said the indictment of Bagley and the others had been delayed while their attorneys got the case reviewed at the highest level of the Justice Department.
The case was reviewed by Benjamin Civiletti, then deputy attorney general and now incoming U.S, attorney general, who apparently was satisfied. The indictments were handed down later that month.
Bagley said today that "in this postWatergate era, the weaknesses of our national judicial review system (are) due to intimidation by some national columnists and by overzealous field prosecutors. The tail now is truly wagging the dog."
Long-time observers of the investigation and prosecution of Bagley, which has gone on for nearly two years, say the prosecutor referred to by Bagley is U.S. attorney H.M. "Mickey" Michaux in Greensboro.
Patricia Lemley, an assistant U.S. attorney on Michaux's staff, was coprosecutor along with Justice Department attorney Robert Clark. Michaux could not be reached for comment today.
At his press conference, Bagley also referred to "conflicts to interest by federal prosecuting authorities." During the trial -- when the jury was out of the courtroom -- it came out that the parents of an FBI agent on the case, Vachary Lowe, owned a building that was leased to the Washington Group.
The defense tried unsuccessfully to raise this as a conflict that could prejudice the case. But U.S. District Court Judge Robert Merhige Jr. accepted the prosecution's explanation that the conflict had been laid out to Lowe's superior in Washington well in advance of the trial and that Lowe derived no income from the property anyway.
Some 2,200 employes of the Washington Group lost more than $400.000 when blue chip stocks in profit sharing plans were sold and the funds were reinvested in Washington Group stock.
The prosecutors alleged this was done at the direction of Bagley, who was president of the company, and fellow defendant James Gilley, who was chief financial officer, as part of efforts to inflate the price of Washington Group stock artificially.
Asked today about losses to these employes -- most of them low-paid textile workers -- Bagley put the blame on "bad decisions" by the bank managing the investments. CAPTION: Picture, Smith Bagley assailed government and the press at news conference yesterday. AP