Longform

Gorilla Warfare: Part 2

Page 2 of 3

Kehoe accepted the new plea-bargain on February 9 and set sentencing for April 15.

Then, Block says, he began to feel uneasy. He began to get the idea that prosecutor Guy Lewis was no longer willing to give as much weight to his cooperation, that it was more important to the government to show the world it was tough on wildlife smugglers.

And Lewis was indeed beginning to have reservations about the extent of Block's cooperation, he later explained in court documents. He was getting reports from authorities in the Netherlands that Block had been speaking "in code" to alleged Dutch animal smuggler Kenny Dekker, a former partner of Schafer and one of the three indicted in January, in addition to Block, in the Bangkok Six case. Lewis also suspected Block had altered a document faxed to Schafer in November 1989 pertaining to the shipment of the six orangutans.

In mid-March Block went to a criminal defense lawyer he had known for several years, Michael Metzger of Tiburon, California. Metzger took over the case from the local firm Sonnet Sale and Kuehne, and he immediately filed motions asking Kehoe to allow Block to withdraw his guilty plea to the felony charge and to reinstate the old misdemeanor plea-bargain; or, if the judge rejected those options, Metzger requested that the case be brought to trial. Kehoe denied the motions.

Meanwhile, Lewis had sent the document he suspected Block of altering to a laboratory in Washington, D.C. The forensic expert at the lab agreed with Lewis. With Block's recent lawyer switch, the government suspected their former prize informant wasn't telling them everything; Block insists he never indicated to any of his government contacts he intended to change his relationship with them. By April 13, two days before sentencing, with a 5K1 motion still absent from Kehoe's chambers, Metzger filed a motion to compel the government to submit the letter.

At the sentencing Kehoe did allow Metzger to challenge the government's reasons for not submitting the paperwork Block had been counting on. "The government's integrity is on the line here," Kehoe admonished Guy Lewis. "You made a deal with the man."

Lewis had wanted to delay sentencing until after the trials (scheduled for May and June) of the people Block had helped "sting" and at which he would be expected to testify. But Kehoe denied Lewis's request for a delay, and Lewis cited concerns about Block's continuing cooperation as one reason for not filing a 5K1 motion. Metzger argued that Block intended to testify at the upcoming trials, and that a desire to ensure continuing cooperation didn't amount to a reason to discount past cooperation. Jorge Enrique Pic centsn, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service senior resident agent in Miami, testified he believed Block knew but hadn't told the government the names of all the Bangkok Six participants. "Mr. Block is a world-renowned animal dealer," Pic centsn said, "and the wealth of information he has on the illegal animal trade is just unbelievable." Pic centsn added he "had the feeling" Block had not told them the full truth about his contacts with alleged smuggler Kenny Dekker.

Metzger, a lionlike man with a silver-streaked beard and a growling voice, derided Pic centsn's "gut feelings," pointing out that the government had encouraged Block to contact Dekker to try to lure him to the U.S., where, ostensibly, authorities could get their hands on him more easily. (With interesting timing, Dutch authorities themselves arrested Dekker on Monday, April 19, after a long investigation and just three days after Block's sentencing. Lewis had no comment regarding whether Dekker would be extradited to the U.S.) Two versions of the allegedly altered document Lewis had complained about became the center of a duel of forensic experts, each of whom claimed the other was vouching for a forgery.

Kehoe made no determination regarding the disputed points, but he did appear to agree with both Lewis and Metzger that previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions indicated the government could negate a plea agreement unless its decision was judged to stem from racial or ethnic discrimination or to be "irrational." Kehoe didn't think discrimination was involved, but he couldn't figure out how legal precedent would define "irrational." "What is the standard the court must apply in determining irrational conduct?" the ruddy-faced, jowly judge questioned both lawyers. "What if I just don't agree with [the government's reasoning]?"

Lewis insisted he had acted A or refused to act A in good faith. "I know what's riding on this A not only the reputation of the government but in many instances my own," he told Kehoe. "But in my own judgment, I can't file the 5K1 because I have reservations...about the fullness of his cooperation." Finally the judge made a reluctant decision: "It is the judgment of the court that the action of the government was not irrational and therefore the motion to make the government submit the 5K1 motion is denied," Kehoe said. He added pointedly: "Then we'll get a chance to get the Eleventh Circuit to say what's irrational."

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Kathy Glasgow
Contact: Kathy Glasgow