By ERIC LICHTBLAU New York Times Information Clearing House 3/29/06

A grand jury charged today that a former federal prosecutor in Detroit who led one of the Justice Department’s biggest terrorism investigations concealed critical evidence in the case in an effort to bolster the government’s theory that a group of local Muslim men were plotting an attack.

The prosecutor, Richard G. Convertino, and a State Department employee who served as a chief government witness were each indicted on charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. The grand jury charged that they had conspired to conceal evidence from the jury about photographs of an American military hospital in Jordan that was the supposed target of a terrorist plot concocted by the Detroit defendants.

Mr. Convertino, once a rising star at the Justice Department who fell out of favor with supervisors in Washington, denied that he had ever withheld evidence, and he pledged that he would be vindicated. “These charges are clearly vindictive and retaliatory, and it’s an effort to discredit and smear someone who tried to expose the government’s mismanagement of the war on terrorism,” he said in a telephone interview.
The indictment of the former prosecutor and one of his star witnesses marked a striking turnaround in a case once hailed by President Bush and John Ashcroft, his first attorney general, as a major breakthrough against terrorism plotted on American soil.

After four Muslim men were arrested days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in a dilapidated Detroit apartment, federal authorities charged that they were part of a “sleeper” terrorist cell plotting attacks against Americans overseas.

Two of the men were convicted on terrorism charges after a high-profile trial in 2003, with Mr. Convertino as the lead prosecutor. But the case soon began to unravel amid allegations of concealed evidence and government misconduct. The Justice Department ultimately repudiated its own case, leading to the dismissal of all terrorism charges against the men in 2004.

“I can’t recall a case like this in recent memory where you have not only the collapse of the prosecution’s entire case, but now the prosecutor himself indicted,” said Brian Levin, a professor at Cal State University at San Bernardino who has written extensively on terrorism prosecutions.

“The government has made clear it’s going to do everything it can to go after terrorism, but here you have a case where it appears that hubris might have intoxicated the prosecutor, and he might have taken one step over the line,” Mr. Levin said….

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