Judge Assails U.S. Prosecutors in Tax Case

Times Staff Writer

Calling the conduct of government prosecutors “reprehensible,” a federal judge in Los Angeles on Monday tentatively dismissed tax evasion charges against the wife of independent record promoter Ralph Tashjian.

In the tentative ruling, U.S. District Judge Pamela Ann Rymer said she will grant Valerie Tashjian’s motion to dismiss the indictment based on allegations that prosecutors coerced her into pleading guilty to save her husband from additional criminal charges.

The judge also cited defense claims that prosecutors, after Valerie Tashjian’s guilty plea fell through, returned a new indictment that eliminated a possible defense she might have raised if tried on the earlier charges.


“Separate and apart from whether the government’s decision to seek a second superseding indictment constitutes vindictive prosecution, it is clear that the course of conduct of the (federal organized crime) strike force lawyers falls well below the standard of conduct of expected of government prosecutors,” Rymer said.

“Accordingly, in light of the prosecutors’ flagrant attempt at interfering with the court’s obligation to determine the nature of a guilty plea, the appropriate sanction would appear to be dismissal of the indictment.”

Rymer is expected to issue a formal dismissal ruling today.

Tashjian, 32, secretary to her husband’s promotion business, had been charged with failing to report corporate income and had agreed to plead guilty to aiding in the preparation of a false tax return.

Ralph Tashjian, 41, faces trial later this month on a 175-count “payola” indictment alleging that he provided cocaine and cash to radio station program directors to get his clients’ records included on their play lists. His separate motion to dismiss the indictment on similar grounds is pending.

Attorneys for the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Strike Force, which brought the case as part of a wide-ranging investigation into payola in the record industry, have said there was never any attempt to mislead the court about the fact that the government would allow Ralph Tashjian to plead guilty only if his wife entered a similar plea as well.

There was never any attempt to coerce Valerie Tashjian into pleading guilty, and defense lawyers were at all times aware of the conditions of the plea, the strike force said in its court papers.


“If there was misleading, there seemed to be several people involved in misleading, not only government counsel, but defense counsel and defendants themselves,” William S. Lynch, senior counsel in the case, argued before Rymer.

But the judge said she had provided “tremendous opportunities to explain” the situation, and no satisfactory explanation had been offered.

“It’s very troubling to me. I’ve never done this,” she said. “I certainly realize that dismissing the indictment is and ought to be extraordinary.”

After the hearing, Valerie Tashjian’s lawyer, David Kenner, said there is a “good chance” that charges against Ralph Tashjian will be dropped as well.