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Archive for Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Former executives at Westar request charges be dropped

August 11, 2004

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— Attorneys for former Westar Energy Inc. executives David Wittig and Douglas T. Lake, accused by federal prosecutors of looting the state's largest electric utility, attacked the government's case again Tuesday, seeking either a dismissal or more detail about the charges.

"The indictment throws around these pejorative words but doesn't tell you anything," said Paula Junghans, an attorney for Wittig. "The government's burden is to make its charges precise."

Wittig, 48, of Topeka, is the company's former chief executive; Lake, 54, of New Canaan, Conn., is the former executive vice president. They each face 40 federal charges, including conspiracy, wire fraud and falsification of records. The two men are scheduled to go to trial Oct. 12 in Kansas City, Kan.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson considered pretrial issues raised by Wittig's and Lake's attorneys.

A federal grand jury indicted Wittig and Lake in December but issued a new, revised indictment last month. Wittig and Lake pleaded not guilty to the revised indictment's charges Tuesday, as they had to the original indictment in December.

Robinson said she would hear more arguments on whether the charges against Wittig and Lake should be dismissed at a hearing Sept. 13.

But Robinson did rule from the bench that the government in some cases needed to spell out more details. She also was skeptical that Wittig and Lake, who left the company late in 2002, did not know what was being alleged.

"From what I've heard so far, the defendants understand what the allegations are," Robinson said. "They just don't accept that they're a crime."

The judge also is considering a request from Wittig to suppress testimony he gave before a grand jury in September 2002.

His attorneys contend that Assistant U.S. Atty. Rich Hathaway acted improperly because he didn't tell Wittig he was the target of the grand jury's investigation. In fact, Hathaway was "a little sneaky" and misled Wittig and his attorney, said Adam Hoffinger, another attorney representing Wittig.

"It's unfair and not right, and something should be done," Hoffinger told Robinson.

But Hathaway said when Wittig testified before the grand jury, he wasn't considered a target. Furthermore, Hathaway said, "He could have left the grand jury and conferred with counsel and refused to answer questions."

Robinson denied the defendants' request that they be tried separately. She said that because the case involved an alleged conspiracy, jurors would hear the same evidence if separate trials were held.

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