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Before last week, former federal prosecutor G. Paul Howes had only suffered blows to his reputation for his misconduct in a witness-payment scandal. But now, Howes, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the District, faces serious ethics charges from the D.C. Bar Counsel that could trigger sanctions — including disbarment. The charges stem from Howes’ improper disbursement of more than $140,000 in federal witness vouchers to 132 people during several high-profile drug trials while he was a prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District in the 1990s. The misconduct, which wasn’t noticed until a tip came from one of Howes’ informants, resulted in dramatically reduced prison sentences for nine defendants convicted in those trials. On Feb. 1, the D.C. Bar Counsel filed eight charges against Howes after a four-year investigation, accusing him of violating bar ethics rules by committing criminal acts, making false statements in court, offering prohibited payments to witnesses, and interfering with the administration of justice. “Prosecuting a [former] U.S. attorney is not something we do very often. It is pretty, pretty rare,” D.C. Bar Counsel Wallace “Gene” Shipp Jr. says. “Charges that include dishonesty are always serious. They are very serious allegations.” Howes, now a partner in the San Diego office of Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins, didn’t return telephone calls seeking comment. His attorney, D.C. defense lawyer Plato Cacheris, also did not return calls. The Bar Counsel investigation mirrors many of the findings of an internal Justice Department probe completed in 1998, but the Bar Counsel goes beyond that investigation’s report in its charge of criminal acts by Howes, including false statements and false certifications. The Justice Department began a two-year investigation of Howes in 1996, a year after he resigned from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where he spent 11 years as a prosecutor. The report found that Howes used witness vouchers as a personal slush fund that “went so far beyond the limits of appropriate conduct as to constitute flagrant abuse of the system.” Both the Justice and Bar Counsel investigations found that Howes made improper witness-voucher payments to witnesses, friends and relatives of witnesses, incarcerated government witnesses, and former police officers.
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