More than 100 agents, acting on information provided by a former lawyer for Manuel Noriega, raided the offices and homes of four judges and an attorney suspected of corruption Saturday, a federal prosecutor said.
The lawyer, Raymond Takiff, became involved in the judicial corruption probe in August 1989 and withdrew from the Noriega case Jan. 3, 1990, the day before Noriega surrendered to U.S. troops in Panama and was flown to the United States.Documents released by the U.S. attorney's office said Takiff cooperated as part of a plea agreement reached Nov. 20, 1989.
U.S. attorney's spokeswoman Diane Cossin refused to comment on the agreement, but a federal source who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the charges involved income tax fraud and other counts.
U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen said the government did not seek or obtain privileged information about Takiff's clients, including Noriega.
As part of the judicial corruption investigation, undercover agents from the FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement appeared in court as defendants and paid money for judicial favors, Lehtinen said. The chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court was notified of the covert operation.
Current Noriega lawyer Jon May said he doubted Takiff's involvement would affect the former Panamanian leader's scheduled Sept. 3 trial. "This will have no impact on the case whatsoever," May said.
But he added the defense may have to ensure before trial that jurors do not confuse the current attorneys with Takiff.
The Dade County case involves money paid for suppression of evidence, return of property to defendants, reduction of bail bonds and improper release of confidential information, said Lehtinen, who announced the probe with Dade State Attorney Janet Reno.
FBI agents, armed with search warrants, carted off boxes of files from the Metro-Dade criminal courthouse after searching the judges' chambers.
No charges had been filed against the four judges or another target of the 22-month covert probe, criminal lawyer David Goodhart, a former Dade County judge and prosecutor.
The four judges were Roy T. Gelber, Phillip Davis and Alfonso C. Sepe, all Dade County circuit judges who handle felony cases, and County Judge Harvey N. Shenberg.
Davis on Saturday was presiding over a trial and immediately excused himself. Outside the courthouse, Davis and his lawyer, Richard Sharpstein, denied any wrongdoing.