LaRouche Says Conviction is ‘Obscene Miscarriage of Justice’
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) _ Political maverick Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. says his conviction of tax and mail fraud conspiracy is ″a wrong, gross, disgusting, obscene miscarriage of justice,″ and predicted he will die a martyr’s death if sent to prison.
″They don’t want a living political martyr in prison, they want a dead one,″ said LaRouche, claiming he was the victim of a hate campaign by the news media and a frameup by a pro-Soviet ″friends of glasnost″ clique in the Justice and State departments.
LaRouche, 66, a perennial fringe candidate for president, told reporters he felt no remorse or sympathy for his followers, many of them elderly people, who had loaned his organization millions of dollars and gotten little or none of their money back.
″They have been wronged, not by us but by the government,″ he said, explaining that when several of his groups were forced into bankruptcy proceedings in April 1987, the government seized loan repayment funds.
After less than 12 hours of deliberation, a federal trial jury on Friday found LaRouche and six associates guilty of mail fraud and conspiracy for raising more than $30 million in loans from supporters without any intention of repaying them.
In addition, LaRouche was convicted of scheming to defraud the Internal Revenue Service by having all his personal expenses paid by various corporations he controls and claiming he had no taxable income. Government prosecutors said LaRouche has not filed federal income tax returns for any year since 1978.
Chief U.S. District Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr. set sentencing for Jan. 27, and allowed all seven defendants to remain free on their personal recognizance. LaRouche faces a maximum penalty of 65 years in prison and fines totaling $3.25 million.
All seven were found guilty of all 48 counts contained in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury on Oct. 14 after a two-year investigation of the LaRouche organization’s financial affairs.
The six convicted LaRouche associates, who face lesser maximum penalties, are William Wertz, the leader’s chief fund-raiser; Edward Spannaus, legal coordinator for LaRouche, and fund-raisers Michael Billington, Paul Greenberg, Joyce Rubinstein and Dennis Small.
Defense lawyers said they planned to appeal the convictions. They repeatedly denied that LaRouche had sought to cheat federal tax collectors, and insisted that his fund-raisers had promised in good faith that the terms of the loans would be honored.
Government prosecutors led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kent Robinson said the LaRouche people were lying when they solicited the loans with promises of prompt payment at preferred interest rates.
In 1986, they said, LaRouche associates were making an estimated $500,000 in improvements to his heavily guarded Leesburg, Va., estate, including a swimming pool and riding ring, while they were defaulting on millions of dollars in loans from supporters.
LaRouche, who did not testify during the four-week trial in U.S. District Court, stood erect facing the jury of eight women and four men as a clerk recited their guilty verdict on all 13 counts against him. He sat down without a word or a gesture.
Small nodded and smiled almost imperceptibly as he was convicted. Ms. Rubinstein broke into tears and fell into the arms of a woman friend after she left the courtroom.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Markham of Boston said he did not regard the outcome of the complex, hard-fought court case as a victory.
″I consider this an obvious conclusion to a long pattern of false statements to trusting senior citizens,″ he said. ″Their dreams for their retirement are gone. It’s a sad case.″
Defense lawyer Kenly Webster, who represented Spannaus, said the jury’s decision probably was influenced by ″the size of the debt incurred and the failure to pay that debt back according to the terms and conditions.″
The jurors ″probably felt it would be a long time before they would be paid back, if at all,″ Webster said.
He speculated that the jury also was influenced by the ″very controversial views″ held by LaRouche and his supporters on political issues, which seemed ″inextricably entwined″ with the defaulted loans issue.
The LaRouche movement embraces numerous unorthodox positions and relies heavily on conspiratorial theories to explain world events. Some adherents have advocated quarantining AIDS victims. Others have alleged that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth are involved in conspiracies.
At a news conference held in his Alexandria apartment suite shortly after the verdict was announced, LaRouche said he himself was the victim of a conspiracy conceived by leftist government opponents, promoted by liberal dupes in the news media and carried to a climax Friday by ″a runaway jury ... with no regard for facts.″
LaRouche said he was convinced that his conviction is tantamount to a death sentence at the hands of fellow prison inmates.
″The way the jury voted, I’m dead,″ he said, adding that the government’s goal was ″not to put me in prison but to kill me.″
LaRouche said he will leave behind the legacy of an international ″anti- Bolshevik resistance″ led by followers who are ″prepared to fight and die to save civilization″ from world conquest by the communists.
″We will kill and die if necessary to restore the kind of government the founders of this country fought to create,″ he said.
LaRouche said he and his followers are not afraid to die. ″We are not a bunch of sentimental slush heads,″ he said.
A separate criminal case involving LaRouche is scheduled for retrial in Boston starting Feb. 27. In that case, LaRouche, six aides and five of his organizations are charged with conspiring to obstruct a federal grand jury investigation into allegations that more than $2 million was raised for LaRouche’s 1984 presidential campaign through credit card and loan fraud.