Feds knock; a business is lost

The drama may not be over. Latifi's attorneys have filed a formal complaint with the Justice Department's office of professional responsibility (OPR) accusing Martin and her deputies, David Estes and Angela Debro, of "prosecutorial misconduct" for allegedly stating in conversations with the defense attorneys that their goal was to put Latifi out of business whether or not they won the case. Latifi is seeking access to the government's case files, which his attorneys say will prove that prosecutors failed to disclose evidence suggesting his innocence.

Martin's 6½-year tenure already has been marked by high-profile trials and controversy. The Republican appointee's handling of prosecutions of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman, a Democrat, and HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy has been criticized as politically motivated, most recently in an April 17 report by the Democratic staff of the House Judiciary Committee.

Mark White, incoming president of the state bar association, says the Alabama legal community is concerned with "the attitudes and positions taken by the U.S. attorney's office. … They are seen as being political."

A ruling on Latifi's attempt to see prosecutors' records may be months away, but Johnson already has indicated deep concern about the government's conduct. "Evidence was received during the defendant's trial that at least raises the possibility that the government continued to investigate and prosecute (Latifi) even after uncovering evidence demonstrating that the defendants were not guilty of the alleged crimes," the judge wrote.

An unlikely target

At 8 a.m. on Tuesday, April 13, 2004, Beth Latifi heard an insistent knock at the door of their two-story brick home in one of Huntsville's gated communities. Still holding the shirt she'd been ironing for her husband, she opened the door to armed federal agents. One of the lawmen thrust a search warrant at her with a curt, "Read it," she says, as his colleagues swarmed the home.

"What the hell?" the startled woman exclaimed.

About 15 miles away, a similar scene was playing out at Axion's headquarters. The raids were the outgrowth of a five-month probe by the Army's Criminal Investigations Division's procurement fraud unit. At issue was Axion's work on two Army contracts: one for a part that dampens vibrations on the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter rotor, and a second for a shock absorber on two Army vehicles.

Latifi was an unlikely object of official suspicion. A veteran engineer, he had a reputation as a perfectionist. He was also a naturalized citizen with an unabashed faith in his adopted land. "I came to the United States because I honestly believe in the Bill of Rights," he said in the interview. "This is the only country on Earth … you have all the rights God has given you and can pursue your life the best you know how. No (other) country gives you that."

A native of Ahwaz in southwestern Iran, Latifi immigrated to the USA in 1971 and became a U.S. citizen 11 years later. Intensely proud, he hails from a prominent Arab-Persian family. During World War II, Latifi's father, an Arab sheik, hunted wild pigs and rabbits with the head of the U.S. gendarme mission, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, father of the Operation Desert Storm commander.

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