Promising Driver John Paul Jr. Is Accused of Aiding Father in Smuggling Ring, Making It. . . : A Rough Road Ahead

Times Staff Writer

Pleas of not guilty because of insanity are commonplace in courts of law these days, but John Paul Jr. may have a new defense plea: not guilty by reason of fright.

Paul, 25, one of America's most promising young race car drivers, will answer charges Monday in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville, Fla., that he was a member of a marijuana smuggling ring headed by his father, John Paul Sr., 45.

The elder Paul, also a race driver of international repute, is in jail in Geneva, Switzerland, awaiting extradition on a charge of attempted first-degree murder of a witness in a federal drug investigation. He also faces 17 other racketeering charges related to conspiracy, drug trafficking, laundering illegal profits and jumping bail.

Federal authorities claim that Paul Sr. was responsible for bringing more than 200,000 pounds of marijuana from Colombia into the United States for a five-year period ending in 1981.

Both Pauls are champion drivers who burst upon the auto racing scene in rapid succession in the late '70s. Senior, a Dutch immigrant who came to this country at 15 and later made a fortune on Wall Street, won the world endurance championship in 1978 and 1980. Junior won the 1982 International Motor Sports Assn. Camel GT series with a remarkable total of nine wins, one in the 24 Hours of Daytona, with his father and the late Rolf Stommelen of West Germany as his co-drivers.

In April of 1983, Paul Sr. was indicted by a federal grand jury of trying to obstruct the grand jury's drug investigation by shooting Stephen Carson, a federal witness and one of Paul's former associates.

On Dec. 13, 1983, Paul Sr. failed to appear in a St. Augustine, Fla., state court for trial on the attempted murder charge and forfeited a $500,000 bond. An arrest warrant was issued and a world-wide hunt was conducted by FBI agents working through Interpol, the international police agency.

Carson, the man Paul is accused of having tried to kill, told authorities after he had recovered from his gunshot wounds that he was desperately afraid of Paul and would never have fingered him as a marijuana trafficker.

"I knew he'd kill anyone who said anything about what he was doing," Carson said. "But he got the wrong guy. I was too afraid of him to say anything, but I guess he thought it was me anyway."

Carson was shot five times in the back and legs with a .38 caliber revolver as he returned from a fishing trip off the north Florida coast. The shooting occurred on a boat ramp in Crescent Beach, near St. Augustine.

Paul Sr. disappeared after the shooting but surrendered June 27, 1983, and pleaded not guilty to the attempted-murder charge. Circuit Judge Richard Weinberg ordered him held in lieu of $500,000 bond, which was posted July 7. Then Paul did not show up for the trial.

Paul Sr., wearing a disguise, was apprehended last Jan. 11 while entering a Swiss bank with his wife, Hope. Junior was indicted three days later.A number of racing people believe that the main reason Junior was indicted so soon after his father's arrest in Switzerland was to prompt the elder Paul to waive extradition and return to the United States to help clear his son.

Hope Paul also has a racing background. Her brother is Hurley Haywood, a four-time winner of the Daytona 24-hour race and also a winner in the 24 Hours of LeMans.

The central figure in the case, however, is John Paul Sr., a man used to doing things his way, and used to having others do them his way, too.

"Senior is the most terrifying man I have ever met," said one IMSA official who observed his rantings during several seasons of competition. "Temper tantrums and wild outbursts are pretty commonplace in racing, but Senior's extend way beyond that. He is more than frightening. He is scary."

A.J. Foyt's father used to say that working for his son was something like dancing with a buzzsaw. Anyone who has witnessed one of John Paul Sr.'s tantrums, however, would probably consider dancing with a buzzsaw much safer than being in the vicinity of an enraged Paul.

According to an eyewitness, Senior once stormed into his office at J.P.L. Racing in Lawrenceville, Ga., and scaled a full briefcase across the room the way beach boys toss Frisbees. It crashed against the wall with a terrible clatter.

"If it had hit a secretary, it would have taken her head off," said the witness. "And I know he never looked before he threw. He could have killed someone."

Promoter Steve Earwood recalled an incident in the father-son relationship that occurred at a Camel GT race at Road Atlanta three years ago:

"The kid had just won the pole and we had him on a radio show and everyone was in a good mood. He was with some Miller (beer) people who were going to sponsor him in the race, and he couldn't have been happier.

"We decided to have dinner, and while we were waiting outside (the restaurant), the old man showed up with his bride-to-be. Well, he started screaming and yelling and chewed the kid up and down and sideways for something that had happened earlier. It was quite a scene and it rattled the hell out of the kid. He never did recover the rest of the night. He just looked beat."

No smile crossed Junior's face recently in Florida when he was asked if if he had ever been afraid of his father. He answered slowly, somewhat grimly: "My father can be very intimidating at times."

While at liberty on his $125,000 bail, Junior has continued his racing career in IMSA, but he will not comment on the case, under instructions from his attorney, except to say that "I have not seen my father since November, 1983."

Phil Conte, owner of CGI Industries in Paramount, also owns the two March 85Gs, powered by prototype Buick V6 turbo engines, that Paul drives on the IMSA road racing circuit. He posted $12,500 in cash and signed a bond for the remaining $112,500 to free his driver after Junior had spent three days in jail in Jacksonville.

"We believe everything is going to be fine," Conte said. "As far as I am concerned, he is innocent. And he is my friend. I was in the Marine Corps for four years and I never deserted anyone. I'm not going to start now. I have no trouble with John Paul's name being associated with Conte Racing. And you've got to give Buick credit for sticking with us, too."

There are four charges against Paul Jr., involving specific crimes in 1979 and 1981, according to Tom Morris, assistant U.S. attorney. Two stem from earlier marijuana charges on which the Pauls were convicted in a Louisiana court. At that time, Paul Jr. pleaded guilty to the felony charges and was put on three years' probation. A third charge involves conspiracy, and a fourth involves accepting delivery of a truck allegedly loaded with marijuana.

The maximum penalty for conviction on all four counts is 50 years in prison and $80,000 in fines.

The indictment has already proven costly to the younger Paul. He lost his ride in an Indy car owned by Doug Shierson. It was considered one of the top rides for 1985 and has been taken over by Al Unser Jr.

Said Junior: "The first thing I did (after being indicted) was call Doug (Shierson) and Phil (Conte) and offer to resign. Doug accepted immediately, it took him maybe 30 seconds, but Phil wouldn't hear of it. He said he was my friend and would stand behind me.

"I don't blame Doug for what he did because I knew he had to think about his sponsors. I owe Phil a big debt. He has offered to back me for the full season and the way I understand it, whatever happens in court won't happen until the end of the year, so I'll be able to drive."

Even before his most recent indictment, Junior's career had suffered because of his father's reputation. The Ford Motor Co., when it decided to re-enter professional racing two years ago with a prototype Mustang GTP, considered Paul as one of its drivers but shied away when his father was charged with the attempted murder of Carson.

Junior, still not quite recovered from a broken left leg suffered in a crash that spring while practicing for the Indianapolis 500, had impressed them by winning the Michigan 500-mile Indy car race with a dramatic last-lap pass of Rick Mears.

Lee J. Paul, Senior's father, and four Florida men were named in the indictment with the Pauls on racketeering charges. The others are David Cassoria of Gainesville, Christopher Schill of Jacksonville, Matthew L. Powers of St. Augustine and Charles Evers of Miami.

The indictment alleges that Paul Jr. was engaged in a conspiracy with his father to launder the profits from Senior's drug trafficking.

Senior and Schill are additionally charged with digging a huge underground cave near Corinth, Ga., southwest of Atlanta, where, according to the indictment, they planned to grow marijuana plants in an artificial environment. It is alleged that they spent more than $300,000 to build the 200 x 40-foot underground room, including $40,000 for grow-lights and $40,000 for a diesel generator. Fuel for the generators came from tanks buried beneath the room.

Access to the underground plantation was through a steel-reinforced 25-foot tunnel beneath an old barn. Authorities estimated that $4 million worth of marijuana a year could be grown there.

"Senior gave a new dimension to the meaning of Underground Atlanta," wrote Norm Froscher of the Gainesville Sun.

Federal authorities also said they believed Paul had used the cavern as a hideout during part of the time he was being sought after jumping bail.

Until Senior disappeared, headquarters of the J.P.L. racing team were in Lawrenceville, Ga., northeast of Atlanta. Junior has since moved to West Palm Beach, Fla., where he lives with his wife, Trish, and their newborn daughter, Alexandria.

John Bishop, president of IMSA, said he supported Conte and Paul in their desire to continue racing.

"Until a court of law determines that someone is guilty, we consider him innocent," Bishop said. "I don't think Paul's running in our races has hurt IMSA. I've know Johnny as long as he's been racing for us and I would say I've rarely seen a talent as big or a person more cooperative.

"We're distressed that he's in the headlines in such a distressing way, but I'd rather the public judged Johnny on his tremendous ability as an athlete. His problems have nothing whatever to do with racing."

If Conte has his way, Paul will drive in all 11 remaining IMSA races this season. His own CGI Industries is the car's sponsor.

"We've never stopped testing and we haven't missed a race," Conte said. "We are very pleased with the way John has handled the car. We've been fastest at both Daytona and Miami and even though we haven't won yet, our results have pleased the people at Buick.

"Our agreement with Buick, going into Daytona, involved three things. We said we would get them the pole, set a lap record and dominate the race while we were running. We did all of those things. We would not guarantee a win yet, but that's coming."

Junior was arraigned in Jacksonville the day before he was to qualify for the Daytona 24-hour race in February. Asked if he felt the charges might affect his driving, he said no.

The next day he was two seconds faster than any other driver in the international field as he averaged a record 126.278 m.p.h. over the 3.56-mile road course.

"When I'm in a race car, I have the ability to shut out everything else," he said at the time.

Paul led the first 90 minutes of the 24-hour race and was running second or third through the first five hours when an upright snapped in the car's suspension system, eventually putting the car out of the race.

Two weeks ago, on a twisting city course in Miami, Paul again was fastest qualifier with a lap at 82.066 m.p.h., breaking a two-year-old Miami Grand Prix record. The car quit on the course during the three-hour race, however, and sat for nearly an hour before Paul could restart it.

"It was just like Daytona," Conte said. "John was dominating the race until some little thing went wrong. This time it was the battery. One of the plates broke. It was a new battery, too. All we can do is get to work for the next race."

Paul, who was restricted to Florida and Georgia during the terms of his bail, has been granted permission to come to California for testing Friday at Riverside International Raceway.

"John and (co-driver) Bill Adam will run six hours at Riverside under full race conditions," Conte said. "We're going all-out under full power to try and shake out any problems in the car.

"We want to test for every race by running the same, or double, the distance. This is a test for Road Atlanta (April 14). It's only three hours, but we're going twice the distance. As far as the crew and the drivers are concerned, it'll be just like a race. The test will also help us for the 600 (kilometers) at Riverside."

The Times/Nissan Grand Prix of Endurance, including a 600-kilometer Camel GT race, is scheduled April 28, at Riverside.

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