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 Former federal prosecutor expects to be indicted over handling of terrorism case

Latest NewsDavid Shepardson / The Detroit News

PLYMOUTH -- Richard G. Convertino, a former federal prosecutor whose handing of the 2003 Detroit terrorism trial is the subject of a federal grand jury investigation, expects to be indicted soon, his spokesman said.

W. Edward Wendover, a former publisher of the Plymouth Community Crier who is handling Convertino's press relations, said Convertino plans to...

discuss his whistleblower lawsuit and the Justice Department's investigation at 1 p.m. today in Plymouth.

"He's expecting to be indicted," Wendover said this afternoon. "Apparently, it's about his ninth-grade transcripts," Wendover said dryly.

Wendover said Convertino's grade-school transcripts had been subpoenaed in the Justice Department's extensive investigation. "He is glad his whistleblower lawsuit is being allowed to proceed and that he is upset to say it politely about the leaks into the grand jury investigation."

Wendover was referring to a Feb. 19 report in The Detroit News that a special grand jury sitting in Detroit was near the end of its investigation into whether three government officials conspired to obstruct justice and suborn perjury in the 2003 Detroit terrorism trial, officials familiar with the case told The News.

Under investigation is Convertino, along with the FBI Special Agent Michael Thomas and another witness in the trial, U.S. State Department security officer Harry Raymond Smith.

In June 2003, Convertino won a conviction against two Detroit men on terrorism charges. The case, which claimed four Arab immigrants were part of a sleeper cell, was the nation's first terror trial after the September 11 attacks.

The convictions were tossed out in 2004 after a Justice Department review found prosecutors suppressed evidence that might have bolstered the defendants' claims of innocence.

The special grand jury has heard from numerous witnesses in the last six months, ranging from prosecutors to defense attorneys to an office paralegal, according to several people familiar with the proceedings. By law, grand jury deliberations are secret.

Thomas has retained prominent Detroit defense attorney Steven Fishman for the criminal investigation. He is separately represented by Richard L. Swick in Washington, D.C., in an internal matter.

Smith has hired Thomas Cranmer, a well-known defense attorney and current president of the Michigan State Bar.

Following the terror convictions, Convertino was removed from the terror case in September 2003. In February 2004 he filed a whistleblower lawsuit against then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and Justice Department officials in Detroit, claiming they leaked an internal disciplinary report and "mismanaged the war on terrorism."

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth dismissed half of the lawsuit in October.

The Justice Department in a court filing earlier this month made its strongest statement to date suggesting it was seriously considering seeking indictments.

Government attorney Rupa Bhattacharyya agreed to finally allow Convertino's whistleblower suit to proceed, as long as it is "managed in a way that does not endanger the ongoing investigation or any subsequent criminal proceedings."

You can reach David Shepardson at (313) 222-2028 or dshepardson@detnews.com.

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