Attorneys for sports car maker John Z. De Lorean indicated today, as he entered a not guilty plea to charges of drug trafficking and racketeering, that they would wage a long and complicated pretrial battle to prove the government entrapped their client.
De Lorean, 57, looking more relaxed than he did when he first appeared on cocaine charges here after his Oct. 19 arrest, told U.S. District Court Judge Robert M. Takasugi he was innocent of all nine charges, which could carry a maximum penalty of 72 years in prison and a $195,000 fine on conviction.
A new attorney for De Lorean, Seth Hufstedler, husband of former cabinet secretary and federal appeals court judge Shirley Hufstedler, cautioned reporters later that publicity about the alleged drug conspiracy represented "propaganda from the prosecutor."
Free on $10 million bail, De Lorean has been identified in federal affidavits and indictments as the prospective financier of a drug importation scheme designed to produce as much as the $60 million he needs to rescue his faltering automobile company.
Government documents allege that De Lorean approached a man who turned out to be a government informer to see if he could raise cash quickly in the illegal cocaine business, and in time cooperated with known drug traffickers and federal agents posing as traffickers to set up a deal.
Stephen Wilson, attorney for pilot-inventor William Morgan Hetrick who has been charged with planning to bring the cocaine into the United States, said he had met with attorneys for De Lorean and an indicted Hetrick associate, Stephen Lee Arrington.
They decided, he said, that because of "inherent complexities" in the case, "several pretrial motions and extensive discovery procedures" would be necessary.
He added that he doubted a trial could begin within the 90 days required under "speedy trial" rules for federal court. Although Hetrick and Arrington remain imprisoned at the Federal Correctional Institution at Terminal Island, unable to post $20 million and $500,000 bond respectively, Wilson said Hetrick was willing to waive his right to a speedy trial.
Takasugi said speedy trial rights could not be waived, but said he would hear further motions. He set a trial date of Jan. 7 for all three men, but attorneys familiar with such cases said they expected further delays.
Possible entrapment charges against the government appear to involve a key informant, identified by sources close to the case as James T. Hoffman, 41, an aircraft dealer.
Hoffman reportedly knew De Lorean from a time when he lived near De Lorean's $5 million estate in the Pauma Valley area of San Diego County, and it was Hoffman whom De Lorean allegedly approached in July to see about getting into the cocaine business.
Court documents here show that Hoffman had been involved in other federal drug cases, acting as a cooperating informant in apparent return for government leniency involving some drug charges against him.
When Hoffman's name and picture were shown on NBC television Oct. 29, federal investigators expressed great concern. Alexander Williams III, chief assistant U.S. attorney here, declined to comment on any connection between Hoffman and De Lorean, but he called the disclosure of Hoffman's name and picture on television "tantamount to an invitation to violence."