Paul J. Curran, the special government counsel probing the Carter family peanut business, acknowledged yesterday that Billy Carter is not currently a "target" of the federal grand jury investigation.
Earlier in the day, Billy Carter's attorney, Pierre Howard, told reporters that Curran had disclosed this to him during a meeting a week ago Wednesday.
"I've been informed by Mr. Paul Curran that Billy Carter is not a target in the investigation," Howard said last night in a telephone interview.
Howard continued, "Based on the facts known to Mr. Curran, Billy Carter is not expected to become a defendant."
Curran, reached by phone at his Atlanta office, confirmed he had told Howard "that his client was not then a target of the investigation."
But Curran added that his statement to Howard does not mean the six-week-old investigation conducted by a team of four attorneys and four accountants has concluded. "The investigation is continuing," Curran said by phone.
Curran said he told Howard that, based on the information he had gathered by last week, he was not planning to seek an indictment against Billy Carter.
Howard said he called the press conference to refute allegations made in the May 19 issue of The Nation magazine.
The article by free-lance reporter Peter Peckarsky quoted an unnamed source, "close to the Justice Department investigation now in progress" that Billy Carter withdrew $500,000 in the spring of 1976 from the Carter warehouse account with the National Bank of Georgia and deposited it in his personal account.
The article suggests that the $500,000 subsquently was used to help pay his brother's presidential campaign expenses in 1976.
"I don't want these charges to go unchallenged," said Howard, who denied that $500,000 was withdrawn from the account. He called the allegations in the article "simply untrue."
The Carter warehouse investigation grew out of a separate grand jury probe of the banking affairs of former budget director Bert Lance. That grand jury is expected to hand down indictiments next week.
Lance arranged a multimillion-dollar line of credit for the Carter warehouse in 1975 after he became president of the bank.
Billy Carter, who with his brother and mother owns the warehouse operation, was managing the business at the time of the loan.
Billy Carter has testified before both the Lance grand jury and the one investigating the Carter family's family.