Jury Says Guilty -- Man Claims Frame-Up But Faces 20-Year Term After Verdict On Seven Drug-Related Charges

TACOMA - A man who said he was framed to prevent him from testifying against the Justice Department in a computer-software piracy case was convicted of seven drug offenses.

Michael Riconosciuto, 44, was also acquitted Friday of three charges by a jury that began deliberations Thursday in U.S. District Court.

The 2 1/2-week trial featured four videotapes, branded as fake by Riconosciuto and his lawyer, Thomas Olmstead, which showed drugs being delivered to a government informer.

"We're very happy," assistant U.S. attorney Mark Bartlett said.

"The seven counts were really the seven primary counts. He's looking at a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years" in prison.

Olmstead said he would decide whether to appeal after Riconosciuto is sentenced by Judge Robert Bryan on March 20.

Riconosciuto was convicted of possession of more than 100 grams of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, conspiracy to manufacture and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, and two counts each of distribution of methamphetamine and methadone.

He was acquitted of two counts of distributing methamphetamine and one of distributing methadone.

The charges covered the period from November 1989 to April 1991.

Riconosciuto claimed the case was concocted by federal agents to stop him from presenting evidence to support claims that the Justice Department stole computer software from INSLAW Inc.

In that litigation, he signed an affidavit asserting he had "customized" INSLAW's PROMIS software at the request of a friend of former Attorney General Edwin Meese.

The affidavit said Riconosciuto was told he would be prosecuted if he cooperated with congressional investigators.

A week after the affidavit was filed, Riconosciuto was arrested on the drug charges.

Two of the videotapes shown to the jury included a full-face view of a man who appears to be Riconosciuto in the kitchen of a house in Lakebay on the Kitsap Peninsula, about 45 miles southwest of Seattle.

The man accepted $5,000 in marked bills from an informer.

Riconosciuto was arrested with the bills, and agents testified that his wallet contained a $100 bill that was included in $10,000 in marked bills from an earlier delivery.

One of Riconosciuto's fingerprints was also found on a mug appearing in a tape.

The defense did not call any witnesses, but Olmstead claimed there were inconsistencies in the tapes.

"This is David and Goliath," Olmstead told the jury. "It's overwhelming what the government put together when they put their mind to it."

Last week Bryan denied a defense motion for a mistrial based on claims that one tape shown to the jury was stolen from Riconosciuto in 1989.

Washington, D.C.-based INSLAW in 1982 contracted with the Justice Department for its PROMIS system, used to track cases and criminals.

Later, the department got from INSLAW an enhanced version of the software, and INSLAW alleges the Justice Department expanded use of the enhanced software without paying royalties.

On Monday the Supreme Court refused to reinstate a $7.8 million judgment that INSLAW initially won, and then lost, in the dispute.

The court let stand an appeals ruling that said a federal bankruptcy judge lacked authority to say the government had violated bankruptcy law through fraud.