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Case of Pair Charged in Libyan Plot Goes to Jury

Times Staff Writer

Attorneys for a Louisiana couple charged with conspiring to illegally export oil field equipment to Libya wrapped up their closing arguments Wednesday, leaving it to jurors to decide whether George and Cheryl Smith are guilty or were entrapped by federal investigators.

The Smiths, owners of Oil Patch Production Service Inc., were arrested in January along with a Scottish businessman after a six-month investigation by undercover agents. The investigation revealed that the three allegedly violated a U.S. trade embargo by arranging an equipment shipment to Libya.

During the investigation, U.S. Customs agent Daniel Supnick posed as a salesman for San Diego-based Solar Turbines Inc. and sold the Smiths oil machinery worth $250,000. Prosecutors say the Smiths, of Gretna, La., sold the turbines and other equipment to a middleman--Scottish businessman Francis George Christie--knowing it was destined for Libya’s nationalized, American-built oil fields. The government also charges the Smiths with consummating similar deals with other companies.

During the monthlong trial, Phillip L. Halpern, assistant U.S. attorney, characterized the Smiths as driven by “plain old-fashioned greed” with no regard for the national security interests that prompted President Reagan to impose the trade embargo with Libya in February, 1986.

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During his closing remarks before a jury in U.S. District Judge Rudi M. Brewster’s courtroom, Halpern said that tape recordings of conversations between the Smiths and Supnick show that “they were willing to violate a law that they didn’t believe in so they could make more money.”

“Did they know what they were doing was wrong ahead of time?” Halpern asked rhetorically. “Sure as heck they did. Did they continue to do it? Yes. Were they worried about it? Sure. But greed, greed . . . “

The defense countered that entrapment by federal agent Supnick is at the heart of the case against their clients.

“Were the Smiths willing to violate the laws they are charged with violating before Mr. Supnick came along?” said Warren R. Williamson, who represents George Smith, 50. “The evidence shows that they were not . . . The Smiths were entrapped. That’s the whole case, on every charge.”

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Judy Clarke, the attorney for Cheryl Smith, 37, sounded a similar note and argued that the government’s tapes prove her client was enticed into violating the law.

“Is this our government catching criminals or creating crimes?” Clarke said. “We’re all capable of doing wrong. Typically we don’t do it, because we’re not encouraged to.”

Clarke argued that in this investigation, “the government went too far,” and told jurors: “It’s up to you to set the limits.”

Because of the lengthy testimony and thousands of documents to be reviewed, it could be days before the jury reaches a verdict in the case, attorneys predicted.

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Christie, 51, an Aberdeen, Scotland, businessman who was lured to this country where he could be arrested, pleaded guilty in August to one count of conspiring to defraud the government under an agreement with prosecutors. Ten other charges against Christie were dismissed after he agreed to testify against the Smiths.


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