A rare glimpse inside normally secret federal grand jury proceedings has been provided by a battle among lawyers involved in a nine-month tax and narcotics investigation in Alexandria.
In the course of the probe, two prospective grand jury witnesses have been jailed for refusing to testify and charges of prosecutorial misconduct have been lodged with the Justice Department against an assistant U.S. Attorney handling the case, according to court documents filed last week.
Lawyers representing persons who are targets of the investigation also have charged that prosecutors improperly disclosed secret grand jury documents to the Internal Revenue Service and other federal agencies in violation of federal rules governing evidence.
In addition, a U.S. District judge, Oren R. Lewis, is considering a request by defense lawyers for an in camera, or closed, hearing to weigh a request to dissolve the grand jury or censure federal prosecutors for their alleged violation of grand jury secrecy.
While the substance of grand jury testimony is secret -- heard in a closed room guarded by U.S. marshals -- legal wrangling over procedures used in gathering evidence that may lead to indictments is on the public record.
According to documents and courtroom statements, the Alexandria grand jury began hearing testimony in February on alleged tax violations related to a suspected drug ring in rural Virginia.
The investigation is linked, in part, to the arrest and conviction last year of a Leesburg man, William McKenley Dickerson, after he was caught beside an airplane carrying 700 pounds of marijuana at a small Southside Virginia air strip.
Since February, the grand jury has continued to consider evidence provided by federal prosecutors, including subpoenaed lawyers' records and, in one case, testimony by the mother of a target of the investigation.
Much of that evidence has been presented over the strenuous objections of defense lawyers, who complain the government has been high-handed in forcing witnesses such as family members to testify.
The complaints so far have been unsuccessful. District Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr. jailed two recalcitrant witnesses on contempt of court charges after they refused to testify despite grants of immunity from prosecution. One, a Haymarket, Va., gun dealer named Kenneth O'Day, was imprisoned last week for up to eight months by Bryan. Both witnesses are still in jail.
Meanwhile, lawyers for two targets of the grand jury probe, identified only as Leon Durwood Harvey and his wife Ruth, have filed -- and lost -- two lawsuits aimed at stopping the investigation. Three separate motions for temporary restraining orders to halt the probe were denied by District Judge Richard L. Williams, according to court documents.
Shortly before the lawsuits were filed, Ruth Harvey also complained to the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, alleging prosecutorial misconduct by Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen P. Tandy, who is heading the probe.
A departmental investigation of those charges found the complaint to be "completely groundless," the government said.
Attempts by Ruth Harvey to take formal statements from Tandy and a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent involved in the case also were denied by Judge Williams, the court documents said, and have been appealed.
On Friday, lawyers William B. Moffitt and J. Flowers Mark of Alexandria, who represent the Harveys, asked Judge Lewis for a closed hearing to consider dismissing the grand jury or reprimanding Tandy for her alleged misconduct in conducting the investigation.
In a legal motion filed with the court, the attorneys contend Tandy has compromised the grand jury's secrecy by allowing an Internal Revenue Service official, Special Agent Patrick L. Lydon, to assist the grand jury by serving as custodian of evidence gathered in the case.
Moffitt and Mark charge the secret documents have been improperly disclosed to the IRS, which they claim is using the information to develop a parallel civil tax case against the Harveys in addition to the criminal case before the grand jury.
The lawyers also claim Tandy failed to obtain prompt authorization from a judge, as required by federal court rules, before allowing Lydon to handle the sensitive records.
Tandy, who conceded in court on Friday that Judge Lewis was notified of Lydon's role only in late August -- seven months after the investigation started -- nevertheless defended her conduct. She has branded Moffitt and Mark's actions a "fishing expedition" designed to "examine and impede the grand jury investigation through the back door."
Judge Lewis, who is expected to rule on the request for a hearing sometime next week, indicated little interest on Friday in dissolving the grand jury, despite the allegations by the defense.
"So I order a hearing," Lewis said. "The $64 question is: 'So what?' "