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Federal judge refuses to delay trial of Clifford, Altman in BCCI case


WASHINGTON -- To avoid conflict with New York prosecutors, Justice Department lawyers told a federal judge yesterday that they would defer their case against Clark M. Clifford and Robert A. Altman until the Manhattan district attorney's office completed its bank fraud case against them.

But at a hearing, U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green did not accept the Justice Department's proposal to sort out the trial dates for Mr. Clifford and Mr. Altman.

Judge Green has set a trial on the federal case in Washington for Oct. 26, although a judge in New York has scheduled the trial on the state charges to begin Oct. 22.

Judge Green asked the prosecutors to submit additional legal papers assessing the effect of a federal trial on the New York prosecution and said she would decide at a hearing on Sept. 10 whether to grant the prosecutors' request to postpone the federal trial for Mr. Clifford, who was defense secretary under President Lyndon B. Johnson, and Mr. Altman, his protege.

The defense has sought to have the federal charges tried first.

The federal indictment accuses Mr. Clifford and Mr. Altman of conspiring to defraud the Federal Reserve Board by concealing the role of Bank of Credit and Commerce International in acquiring First American Bankshares Inc., Washington's largest bank holding company.

The New York indictment accuses them of conspiracy, fraud and accepting $40 million in bribes from BCCI. Both men have pleaded innocent, contending they were misled.

Last year, banking authorities shut BCCI amid a torrent of accusations of fraud, money-laundering and bribery on a global scale.

Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney, wrote to Judge Green last week, arguing that the more sweeping indictment brought by his office should be tried first because New York's double-jeopardy law might prevent its being tried if the federal case came first.

The defense lawyers, Robert S. Bennett and Carl Rauh, have asked the judge to let the two men be tried first on the federal charges, contending that Mr. Clifford, who is 85, needs open-heart surgery and is too ill for a trial out of town, that most of the crimes that are charged occurred in Washington, and that the defendants were being squeezed between the two parallel prosecutions.

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