Subpoenas Pulled In Fda-Raid Case -- U.S. Grand Jury Investigates Vitamin Doctor

Several people who work closely with vitamin-doctor Jonathan Wright were expected to take the stand as a federal grand jury convened yesterday, but their subpoenas to testify were withdrawn at the last minute.

Roger Olsen showed up anyway.

"I'd just as soon be in there (testifying) right now," said Olsen, a technician at Meridian Valley Medical Laboratory. "I've got nothing to hide. I guess I really don't understand how the whole system works."

The U.S. attorney's office withdrew subpoenas Thursday evening for two of Wright's employees at the Tahoma Clinic in Kent and four employees of the adjacent laboratory. U.S. attorney spokeswoman Susan Barnes said earlier her office could not comment on any aspect of the case.

Wright's office was raided in May by Food and Drug Administration agents, who were backed up by King County police officers. Clinic employees said they were threatened at gunpoint; police say only one officer had his weapon drawn.

Since that time, Wright has received support from thousands of natural-medicine advocates from around the country, who believe that Wright is the target of a nationwide witch hunt to eliminate nontraditional forms of medicine.

The last-minute subpoena shuffling apparently came about after the employees' lawyers asked for immunity from prosecution for their clients, according to Wright, who was not subpoenaed. When the U.S. attorney refused, the lawyers reportedly said their clients would invoke their Fifth Amendment right not to testify to anything that might incriminate them. After some haggling, the subpoenas were withdrawn. However, they can be reissued during any point while the grand jury hears the case, which could last up to 18 months.

Cyrus Vance Jr., who represents the clinic employees, would not comment on the case. Three people identified as former laboratory employees were, however, planning to take the stand, but would not comment on the case.

Shortly after the FDA raid, officials said they believed that Wright and another Kent laboratory, which was also raided - were manufacturing drugs without a license and distributing injectable drugs that have not met FDA approval.

In August, Wright filed a legal complaint in U.S. District Court alleging that the FDA had been discrediting him. Wright said he believes the grand jury is an attempt by the federal government to derail his civil suit.

Wright also said he believes the FDA's efforts are "the last gasp of a dying, old regime" to thwart the growing popularity of alternative medicine.

Wright's daughter, Kirsten, waited outside the federal courthouse with her father, wearing hand-painted jeans. One back pocket read "Drugs and the FDA - Bad;" the other, "Vitamins and Dr. Wright - Good" with a smiling face.

"I was feeling creative," she shrugged.