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Staff Gets Blame for Saying Chiles was Close to Slain Drug Smuggler

June 2, 1992

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Gov. Lawton Chiles’ staff sought Tuesday to play down the relationship between the governor and a slain hunting partner who was indicted as one of the state’s largest marijuana smugglers.

Chiles issued a statement last month that lamented the killing of rancher Houston Edwin Downs and called him a friend.

A week ago, an August 1991 federal indictment was unsealed charging that Downs helped smuggle 65,000 pounds of marijuana into the country between July 1986 and February 1987.

Chiles’ staff now says the statement lamenting Downs’ death was embellished without the governor’s knowledge.

″He didn’t know him very well at all,″ said Julie Anbender, Chiles’ spokeswoman. ″He thought he was an ordinary businessman.″

When the governor was first asked to comment on Downs’ death, he told a staffer only that he knew of Downs and that they occasionally had gone hunting.

″With the best of intentions to extend support to the bereaved family, the press staff embellished the statement and made an assumption we should not have made,″ Ms. Anbender said.

Downs, 56, was shot to death May 3. Four men were charged with murder. Authorities believe robbery was the motive and don’t consider the crime drug- related.

Prosecutors have seized Downs’ home and ranch, alleging the property was purchased with drug money.

John Watson, a Miami attorney and friend of Chiles, said he introduced Chiles to Downs in the early 1980s at a barbecue and estimated they hunted together four or five times in 10 years.

″You meet a lot of people you hunt and fish with,″ Watson said. ″You don’t ask them their business.″

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