Company Claims Prosecutor Misconduct in Asbestos Prosecution

W.R. Grace and five of its former executives are claiming prosecutor misconduct in a case that alleges the chemical company poisoned the residents of a mining town through asbestos exposure.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula has scheduled a hearing today on the defense claim, the New York Times reports.

The allegation was made Thursday in a two-months-long environmental crimes trial that is the largest in history, Bloomberg News reports. Prosecutors claim the company exposed residents of Libby, Mont., to asbestos while mining for the mineral vermiculite and then conspired to hide the crime. Hundreds who lived near the mine died from asbestos exposure, according to prosecutors.

The former executives could face up to 15 years in prison if they are convicted of the most serious charges. The company faces more than $280 million in fines if it loses the case.

Lawyers for the defendants are seeking dismissal of the charges because of a pattern of “repeated and intentional” misconduct by prosecutors. The defense motion says the government “deliberately solicited testimony from key witnesses that its own agents have conceded to be false” and the “malfeasance is not isolated, but pervasive,” according to the Times account.

The defense claims the prosecution failed to turn over e-mails showing an imroperly close relationship between key witness Robert Locke, a former Grace executive, and a federal agent, the Missoulian reports. The documents undercut claims that Locke testified without a grant of immunity, according to the motion.

Molloy has criticized the government’s case, saying one key witness is probably a liar and questioning government allegations of a conspiracy.

“Monday’s hearing will come loaded with history,” according to the Times. “Judge Molloy has overseen the case since the indictment in 2005, and five major rulings of his, all against the prosecution, have been overturned on appeal.”

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