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WONDER-BOY MILKEN AND ARRAY OF ALLIES SAY `KIND, GENEROUS’ MAN’S NOT A CROOK

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Federal prosecutors call Michael Milken Wall Street's public enemy No. 1, but as he awaits trial on charges that could put him in jail for years, the once powerful financier cannot believe what is happening to him.

"You wonder who they are writing about," he says, referring to the flood of news reports of his alleged crimes.It is sincere-sounding dismay from a man with a razor-sharp mind, a workaholic who brings an almost evangelistic fervor to the world of high finance.

Milken, who will turn 43 on July 4, is facing an indictment on 98 counts of criminal racketeering and securities fraud as well as civil charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"After spending your whole life trying to help people, you can't believe it," Milken said.

Milken, who spoke to Reuters during a two-day visit to Indianapolis, his first in-depth interview since his indictment, said he feels that he has been misrepresented.

He arrived at the 6:30 a.m. interview in the lobby of the Westin Hotel, wide-awake without the aid of coffee or tea. He was casually dressed and looked boyish in a yellow Polo sports shirt and tan chinos, but later donned a white shirt and navy blazer for a hectic day of meetings and public speeches.

Not surprisingly, Milken says he is "disappointed" at being forced to quit Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc., the investment banking company he turned into a Wall Street powerhouse.

Milken is the virtual inventor of junk bonds, which he established as a way to help businesses finance their growth. But these high-risk, high-yield securities are under attack for being used to finance corporate raids and takeovers.

Milken, who headed Drexel's junk bond department, resigned last week to avoid certain dismissal by the Wall Street firm. Drexel agreed to plead guilty to six felonies and dump the man who made billions for it in order to avoid a racketeering indictment.

Milken's trial is scheduled for next spring and if found guilty, he could be sentenced to a lengthy prison term and billions of dollars in fines.

"Did you see " `Field of Dreams'?" Milken asked, trying to explain himself.

In "Field of Dreams," a sentimental hit film fantasy, a character makes a noble choice that forces him to sacrifice his dream of becoming a baseball player.

"I saw a person denied something he wants to do most in his life," Milken said.

"I never thought I would work anywhere else," he added.

He joined Drexel in 1970, right after getting his MBA from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

He has now started his own financial consulting firm in Los Angeles.

"To turn in that resignation was so difficult for him," said Milken's wife, Lori. Although he knew it was inevitable that he would have to leave Drexel, "there was still this glimmer (of hope) - when that final act happens, it's wrenching."

The government alleges that Milken cheated clients and stockholders by engaging in insider trading and market manipulation, and that he tricked a company into a takeover. This week prosecutors released documents they said supported charges that Milken conspired with admitted felon Ivan Boesky, once the most powerful takeover artist on Wall Street.

Other charges include failure to disclose the ownership of certain securities and fradulent trading to create false tax losses.

"The three-year investigation has uncovered substantial fraud in a very significant segment of the American financial community," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Benito Romano had said in announcing the charges. He said that a "very serious criminal problem has infected Wall Street."

Asked why he believes he was indicted, Milken started to answer, but then stopped short, remembering that his lawyers have instructed him not to comment on the litigation.

However, his friends and business associates have firm views. Signaling what is likely to be a Milken defense claim, they charge that Boesky offered up Milken to prosecutors to secure a lighter sentence for himself.

Boesky is cooperating with prosecutors in the landmark insider trading scandal on Wall Street. He was allowed to plead guilty to only one criminal count and is now serving a three-year prison term.

They also say Rudolph Giuliani, the former Manhattan U.S. attorney now running for New York mayor, was overzealous in his job.

The government is painting a picture of a Wall Street shark who wanted to make huge sums of money - whatever the cost. And some news reports have portrayed him as an aloof miser whose philanthropic efforts were only public relations ploys.

Milken earned a total of $1.1 billion from 1984 to 1987, including $550 million in 1987 alone. But he does not fit the stereotype of a money-hungry financier owning many homes, yachts and sports cars.

Instead, he has just one house, is married to his high school sweetheart, and says he has given hundreds of millions of dollars to charity.

"He's a brilliant man with a compassionate heart," said Judith Wolin, a childhood friend. "He was always smart, but never a smart aleck. He wasn't a showoff (in high school) just like he's not a showoff about his success."

Milken was head cheerleader of his high school squad in southern California and voted "most spirited" and "friendliest" member of the Class of 1964.

"He's got smart genes," said Lori Milken. "He can't fix a radio but in his field, he can do anything."

His friends and business associates say Milken has never been driven by money. And referring again to the movie "Field of Dreams," Milken said he believes that most people do not choose their careers because of money. "People take pride in their work and what they are producing."

Asked what drives Milken, his wife replied, "He always had this idea he wanted to build something."

"His father loved this country. Michael grew up with that. You can do anything you want if you have talent and the will to pursue a dream," she said. "The money is a by-product."

She said the family is trying to maintain a normal life. In explaining to their three children what is happening to their father, she said, "I remind them about history, about what has happened to men who've caused radical change."

As for her husband, "He's up and down depending on what's happening, if what he reads is bad and wrong."