A former clerk in the U.S. attorney's office in the District was acquitted yesterday of taking part in an international drug-smuggling ring.
Lisa Griggs Harrison, who worked 11 years for the U.S. attorney's office, was accused of channeling more than $50,000 in illegal drug money through bank accounts. Her husband, Charles Harrison, allegedly was a member of the ring. Lisa Harrison denied any knowledge of drug trafficking by him or others.
"I never had a suspicion, a drug suspicion," she told a jury in U.S. District Court in Washington. "I knew he gambled. That was all I knew about his activities."
Lisa Harrison, 35, of Cheltenham, wept after the jury acquitted her of a money laundering charge. She and seven other alleged drug ring participants, including her husband, stood trial together for more than 10 weeks in Judge Royce C. Lamberth's courtroom.
The jury has convicted two people and acquitted four, including Lisa Harrison. The panel is deliberating charges against Charles Harrison, 36, and Walter Henry III, another alleged ring member.
Authorities said the ring was headed by Nuri Lama, a Nepalese native, who allegedly arranged to bring into the United States large quantities of heroin from China, Thailand and other countries. Lama pleaded guilty to a federal drug conspiracy charge and was a government witness. Seven others arrested in the case also pleaded guilty before the trial began.
During the trial, prosecutors said Lisa Harrison had deposited thousands of dollars a month into two bank accounts, often in small bills, even though her husband was paid a fraction of that amount as a maintenance worker at the District's Blue Plains Sewage Treatment plant. The Harrisons had enough money left over to buy expensive cars, remodel their home and pay for other luxuries, prosecutors said.
Harrison testified that her husband routinely gave her money to deposit in their accounts and that she had no reason to question how he got it. She said Charles Harrison made money by rebuilding and selling automobiles, gambling and running a liquor store in Northwest Washington. Records showed he once won $42,000 in the Maryland state lottery. "I didn't really question my husband," she said.
The charges followed an extensive investigation by the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, D.C. police and other agencies. Lisa Harrison has been on leave since July 1998, when authorities surprised her at work and searched her desk and files. At the same time, they seized bank records and searched her home in Cheltenham. Prosecutors said they found $90,000 in two safe-deposit boxes and $63,000 at the home.
Defense attorney James Rudasill pointed out that Harrison had won commendations during her years with the U.S. attorney's office, where she worked in the criminal and appellate divisions. Three veteran prosecutors testified for the defense that she had excellent work habits. Her last job was as an administrative assistant in a community prosecution office that handled crimes committed in much of Northeast Washington.
Rudasill contended that Lisa Harrison also was not likely to question her husband because he physically abused and threatened her. "The jury was able to see that she was in a marriage in which her husband was the controlling agent," Rudasill said yesterday.
The U.S. attorney's office recused itself from proceedings involving the Harrisons because of her work relationship. Justice Department attorney William Braun handled their prosecution, and Assistant U.S. Attorney William O'Malley Jr. took responsibility for prosecuting others allegedly involved in the drug enterprise.
"I'm just glad it's over," said Lisa Harrison, who has been free on bond since her arrest in May. "My life's been a wreck."