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Judge: Rite Aid Trial Begins Next Week

June 24, 2003

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) _ After asking jurors in the Rite Aid Corp. accounting-fraud case whether pretrial publicity has influenced them, a federal judge decided that the trial of former company executive Franklin C. Brown will start next Monday.

Judge Sylvia H. Rambo met with 12 jurors and six alternates in a closed session for more than two hours Monday morning and then scheduled opening statements.

Court officials declined to say whether any jurors were disqualified. Messages left Monday afternoon with federal prosecutors and Brown lawyer Reid Weingarten were not immediately returned.

Brown, 75, the company’s former chief counsel and board vice president, is accused of conspiring with other Rite Aid officials in the late 1990s to artificially boost the stock price, and interfering with the federal investigation.

He is charged with conspiracy, fraud in the purchase or sale of securities, conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstructing grand jury proceedings, obstructing proceedings of a government agency, witness tampering, 13 counts of lying to the SEC, 10 counts of mail fraud and six counts of wire fraud.

Two other high-ranking Rite Aid officials, former chief executive officer Martin L. Grass and former chief financial officer Franklyn M. Bergonzi, have pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in recent weeks and have agreed to testify.

In asking Rambo to conduct the inquiry, Brown’s lawyers said news coverage of the case _ and particularly coverage of Grass’ guilty plea _ may have tainted the jury.

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