Former representative Otto Passman (D-La.) must be tried in his home state of Louisiana on federal conspiracy, bribery and tax charges growing out of the Korean influence-buying scandal, U.S. District Court Judge Barrington D. Parker ruled yesterday.
Passman, 78, who only recently was found physically and mentally competent to stand trial, is charged with receiving approximately $213,000 in bribes and gifts from Korean businessman Tongsun Park and failing to report that amount on his income taxes.
The ruling was seen as a major tactical victory for Passman and his attorneys, who contended that the proper place to try him was in his home state for several reasons - ranging from his poor health to the availability of witnesses there.
The transfer issue was brought about when the government acquiesced to a defense motion to consolidate the two separate indictments - one on tax evasion and the other on conspiracy and bribery - against Passman, to aviod the necessity of holding two trials.
The consolidation on the two cases brought into play a statute that gives any defendant the option of having income tax evasion charges against him tried in his home state instead of in the location where the offense allegedly occurred.
When the two cases were combined, Passman's attorneys - James Hamilton of Washington and Camille Gravel Jr. of Louisiana - then asked to have the cases transferred, apparently taking Justice Department attorneys by surprise.
Although government attorneys had agreed to the consolidation, they opposed the transfer. They were thus forced to argue for two trials: the conspiracy and bribery charges here first, and the tax evasion case later in Louisiana.
In transferring the case to the Western District of Louisiana, Parker said it appeared the government attorneys might have been "temporarily unmindful" of the long-range effects of their agreement when they allowed the cases to be consolidated.
Or, he added, they might have been "finissed by the defendant's attorneys" who might have been seeking a "home-court advantage."
Whatever the motives, Parker said, "the court cannot shrug off the fact that the defendant is 78 years old and is beset by physical ailments."
He said the issues of expense and convenience of transfer to both sides in the crimainal case were fairly even, but "slightly favor the defense."
Two separate trials, he added, would be "patently unfair and a waste of judicial resources."
Parker had set a trial date in Washington of Oct. 16, but attorneys in the case said they expected the federal judge in Louisiana to set a new date. The case could be tried in Passman's hometown of Monroe or in one of several other Louisiana towns, attorneys said.
Passman is charged with accepting the gifts and bribes from Park to influence U.S. and South Korean officials to help Park sell U.S. rice to Korea. Passman, who served 30 years in Congress, suffers from various physical and mental ailments and has been hospitalized several weeks since his indictment last spring.