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Defense to probe leak to reporter |

Defense to probe leak to reporter

| Saturday, March 19, 2005 12:00 p.m

The lawyer for accused drug kingpin Terrance Cole said he plans to file court papers charging the local U.S. Attorney’s Office with prosecutorial misconduct for having told a newspaper reporter that it plans to investigate whether jury tampering occurred in Cole’s case.

Cole’s trial on federal charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to launder money ended Monday with a deadlocked jury. Prosecutors intend to retry him.

“It distresses me that the government would put out to the media that they are investigating jurors because they didn’t agree with the government,” said defense lawyer Gary Zimmerman. “It sends a chilling message.”

Zimmerman said his motion will seek to have the charges against Cole dismissed for prosecutorial misconduct.

Cole, 36, of Penn Hills, faces up to life in prison if convicted in a second trial.

“I just think it says that if you are on the next Terrance Cole jury and you don’t find him guilty, we’re going to investigate you,” Zimmerman said. “That’s wrong. It’s completely contrary to our jury system.”

Prosecutors are barred from even acknowledging the existence of investigations.

Zimmerman said he wants to determine who told a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter that prosecutors plan to investigate the possibility that Cole or someone he knows might have influenced two jurors who refused to convict Cole.

U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan declined yesterday to respond to Zimmerman’s statements. She said her office will respond in court after he has filed his motion.

Buchanan said she didn’t tell anyone in the media about whether her office plans to investigate possible jury tampering. She added that she is confident that nobody in her office had spoken about the matter. She declined yesterday to confirm the existence of such an investigation.

After a monthlong trial, U.S. District Judge Thomas Hardiman declared a mistrial in Cole’s case after 22 hours of jury deliberations. The jury announced it was deadlocked; two jurors have said they didn’t believe there was enough evidence to convict.

An investigator in the case said he saw one of the jurors, Kevin Lewis, 28, of Homestead, wink at Cole. Lewis denied the allegation and said he had eye problems.

Jurors who wanted to convict Cole said another juror, Joseph Olasin, 49, of Apollo, Armstrong County, told them their lives would be in jeopardy if they convicted Cole.

The jury did convict co-defendant Kevin Gray, 43, of Duquesne, on drug-distribution charges.

Zimmerman, the defense attorney, has been especially critical of the questions raised about Lewis. After closing arguments in the trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Nescott told Hardiman that juror Lewis was seen waving to someone in the gallery.

“If that would have been a white kid from Mt. Lebanon, nobody would have thought anything of it,” Zimmerman said. “I think the government is just stomping their feet because they didn’t get their way.”

Lewis could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Olasin, a mechanic for the Port Authority of Allegheny County, said his comments were misconstrued. He said he never told the other jurors they would be in danger if they convicted Cole. He said he told them that if they convicted an innocent man, they needed to be aware that that man could come looking for them.

“I think somebody is making a mountain out of a mole hill,” Olasin said.

Olasin also denied that he had driven by some of the properties discussed in the case, which the judge had instructed the jurors not to do. He said he was looking at houses for sale with his girlfriend. Olasin said that when he realized he was coming into the area mentioned in the trial, he told his girlfriend to leave the area.

Prosecutors have said Cole headed a drug ring from Hazelwood, his original neighborhood, that brought 2 tons of cocaine worth $40 million to the Pittsburgh area from 1991 to 2003.

Miguel Duran, 38, of New York City, testified that he supplied the cocaine to Cole, who distributed it throughout Western Pennsylvania. Duran testified that Cole was such a valued customer, he gave him a diamond-studded Rolex watch worth $25,000.

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