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Noriega lawyer aided probe of Fla. judges


GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Federal prosecutors yesterday disclosed a longtime bribery investigation of state judges in southern Florida and said a former top lawyer for Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega had worked undercover for the government during the inquiry.

The prosecutors said that, as part of the investigation, federal and state law enforcement agents had posed as criminal defendants and that payoffs had been made to get their bail lowered, have evidence suppressed and gain confidential information.

People familiar with the case said the lawyer for General Noriega, Raymond Takiff, had been involved in the corruption and had begun working for the government as an informer while representing the general.

Claiming health problems, Mr. Takiff left the Noriega defense team shortly before the United States invaded Panama in late 1989.

That was two years after the general, then Panama's ruler, had been indicted on U.S. drug-trafficking charges and weeks before he surrendered to U.S. forces in his country.

One official said yesterday that in a Nov. 20, 1989, sealed agreement, Mr. Takiff admitted income tax violations and other illegal activities. This official indicated that among these activities was Mr. Takiff's serving as an intermediary between defendants and corrupt judges.

Prosecutors and one of General Noriega's current lawyers said Mr. Takiff's assistance to the government would not affect the Noriega trial, now scheduled for Sept. 3.

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