Print shop owner charged with fraud asks to have trial moved

Posted: Tuesday, January 08, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The public defender representing an Anchorage businessman facing federal fraud charges wants the trial moved outside Alaska because of what he calls massive and prejudicial pre-trial publicity.

Nezar ''Mike'' Maad, owner of Frontier Printing Services, faces a Feb. 4 trial in U.S. District Court in Anchorage on two counts of falsifying loan applications, one count of wire fraud and two counts of making false statements to the government.

Federal defender Rich Curtner, in a motion filed Friday, argues Maad can't receive a fair trial in Alaska because of statewide publicity surrounding the damage of Frontier Printing shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Police found smashed equipment and ''We hate Arabs'' spray-painted on a wall. The incident led to an FBI hate crime investigation and a community fund-raising drive to help Maad, an Arab-American.

Last month Maad was arrested on the fraud charges that FBI agents and Anchorage police discovered while investigating the print shop damage. The U.S. attorney's office closed the hate crime investigation and said Maad and his wife, Joanne, are suspected of damaging the shop themselves to get insurance money. However, they have not been charged with that.

Media coverage and the government's statement tying Maad and his wife to the damage have ''created a presumption of guilt in the community,'' Curtner wrote, describing the jury pool as ''irreparably tainted.'' His motion includes 26 pages of articles and letters to the editor published in the Daily News and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

''What is most prejudicial about this publicity is that it condemns Mr. Maad of a crime he hasn't been charged with, based on information that would not be admissible at this trial,'' he argues. ''The community assumption is that he is guilty of destroying his own property and of violating the trust of a community that came to his aid.''

If Chief U.S. District Judge James Singleton Jr. won't move the trial out of state, Curtner asked him to at least move it elsewhere in Alaska. The court's other offices are in Fairbanks, Juneau, Ketchikan and Nome.

Dan Cooper, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting Maad, said the government hasn't decided whether to oppose Curtner's motion. Cooper said his response will be filed Thursday.

Maad's defender hired Craciun Research Group to poll 308 Anchorage voters about what they have heard about Maad and his print shop, which closed after his arrest and is being liquidated by creditors. Craciun conducted a similar poll a decade ago in the mail bomb case.

According to poll results filed in court, 92 percent of respondents said they'd heard about the damage to Frontier. Only 36 percent of that group, though, could name Maad as someone involved in the incident, and just 31 percent said they could remember anything police or prosecutors said about Maad after his Dec. 11 arrest.

Of those surveyed, 53 percent said they didn't know whether Maad is guilty of the fraud charges, and 56 percent feel he could get a fair trial in Anchorage. Asked whether Maad is guilty of damaging his own shop, 43 percent said yes.

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