Businessman seeks retrial due to publicity of case

Posted: Wednesday, August 13, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) An Anchorage businessman wants a retrial, more than a year after he was convicted in federal court of bank and wire fraud.

Nezar ''Mike'' Maad said his trial was tainted by publicity surrounding damage to his print shop shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Maad's federal public defender, Richard Curtner, asked a three-judge panel Tuesday to remand the case back to the U.S. District Court.

Maad has completed a six-month prison sentence for his convictions of fraud and lying to the government. The crimes stemmed from loan applications for his printing business, Frontier Printing Services, that Maad submitted to banks and the Small Business Administration.

They came to light during an FBI investigation into a break-in at the business in which equipment was smashed and the words ''We hate Arabs'' were spray-painted on a wall soon after Sept. 11. Authorities suspected that Maad, an Arab-American, orchestrated the break-in, although no one was ever charged with that crime.

Maad is appealing his fraud convictions, arguing that the trial judge did not adequately consider the effect of extensive pretrial publicity about the break-in and subsequent fraud charges and how it might taint the jury pool.

Curtner told the panel Maad should have been granted a change of venue to Fairbanks or Juneau. The judge should have given more weight to a public opinion survey on pretrial publicity and allowed more detailed questioning of potential jurors by lawyers, Curtner told judges William C. Canby, Harry Pregerson and M. Margaret McKeown, who are hearing cases this week in Anchorage.

During a bail hearing months before Maad's trial, assistant U.S. attorney Dan Cooper described him as a suspect in the vandalism of his print shop as a reason to keep him in custody. The comment was widely reported by local news organizations, Curtner said.

''He'd gone from victim to what I'd say was a traitor,'' the lawyer said.

Cooper's remarks could have prejudiced the jury, Curtner said.

According to Curtner, a survey conducted after Maad was indicted indicated that 75 percent of those polled were aware he was a suspect in the print shop vandalism. And 124 stories about the investigation appeared in Anchorage newspapers or broadcast news reports over four months. That averages to about one a day, Curtner said.

''Our opinion is Mr. Maad did not receive a fair trial,'' he said.

Assistant U.S. attorney Jo Ann Farrington acknowledged that there was an unusual amount of scrutiny surrounding Maad's case and that the atmosphere was ''intense.''

But U.S. District Judge James Singleton took that into account in allowing a day and a half for jury selection, she said.

''All of (the jurors) were questioned extensively and accepted without objection by the defendant,'' Farrington said.

The appeals judges took the appeal under consideration. No date was given for a decision.



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