Wall Street Journal, Feb 7, l986

Two Ex-U.S. Prosecutors' Roles in Case Against Searle Are Questioned in
Probe by Andy Pasztor and Joe Davidson

WASHINGTON:  Two government lawyers who decided against prosecuting the
maker of NutraSweet for allegedly falsifying test results later joined the
law firm that represented the company during the criminal investigation,
Senate investigators charged.

Documents released yesterday by Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D.,Ohio) show that
Samuel Skinner and William Conlon, two senior Justice Department
prosecutors in Chicago who investigated the allegations against G. D.
Searle & Co., repeatedly balked at requests from the Food and Drug
Administration to submit the matter to a federal grand jury during the
late l970's.

The documents also show that both men later joined the law firm of Sidley
& Austin, which represented Searle during the lengthy criminal

Starting in April l976, the documents show the FDA urged the Justice
Department to begin a grand jury investigation to determine whether Searle
submitted false or incomplete test results to the government.

In January 1977, the FDA urged that the investigation focus on NutraSweet,
a popular sweetener, and Aldactone, a drug used to treat hypertension.
Richard Merrill, then the FDA's chief counsel, sent a 33 page report to
Mr. Skinner that included details about "SPECIFIC FALSE STATEMENTS OR
CONCEALED FACTS" stemming from Searle's testing of aspartame, which is now
marketed as NutraSweet.  The report urged a grand jury investigation of
the company and its officers for "WILLFUL AND KNOWING FAILURE" to make

A grand jury investigation was launched that August, and documents show
that the grand jury only looked at evidence relating to the hypertension
drug.  The matter was dropped without any prosecution in early l979.

Sen. Metzenbaum asserted the chain of events "raises serious questions"
about the department's aggressiveness in pursuing the case, and he called
for a full-fledged congressional investigation to determine whether the
two former prosecutors acted improperly.  The senator, who has repeatedly
criticized the Justice Department for failing to prosecute white collar
crimes, also urged additional independent safety tests of the artificial

An FDA spokesman said there isn't any "new scientific information in the
report" released by Senate investigators "that would indicate we have to
take any action at this time."

Skokie, Ill. based Searle, a unit of Monsanto Co., St. Louis, said the
investigation "raises no new or unresolved issues" and said Sen.
Metzenbaum's assertions of possible improprieties are "without merit".

In a statement released by his office, Mr. Skinner said he withdrew from
participating in the case "shortly" after his office received the formal
FDA request for a grand jury, and he maintained his actions were
"consistent" with the department's conflict-of-interest policies.  Mr.
Conlon didn't return phone calls to his office.

In a March l977 memo, Mr. Skinner, then the U.S. attorney in Chicago,
advised other Justice Department lawyers in the office that he was
withdrawing from all involvement in the Searle investigation because of
"discussions about a possible job with the law firm representing the drug

The memo asked his subordinates to keep his job discussions confidential
"to avoid any undue embarrassment" to the law firm.  Sen. Metzenbaum wants
to determine whether Mr. Skinner began discussing employment with Sidley &
Austin before removing himself from the case, and whether the resulting
delay helped the company avoid prosecution.

A successor for Mr. Skinner wasn't in place until four months later, and
the statue of limitations for prosecuting alleged improprieties in
NutraSweet tests expired soon after that.

Federal conflict-of-interest laws generally prohibit government officials
from participating in official business involving a company with which
they are discussing possible employment.

Justice Department officials from Washington had complained in April and
August l977 about the delays and urged that a grand jury be convened, the
documents show.

In October l977, the documents show that Mr. Conlon, the senior prosecutor
then assigned to the case, decided to "reduce or end" his involvement with
the Searle investigation because of pressures of other duties.  Mr. Skinner
joined Sidley & Austin in July l977, and Mr. Conlon joined the firm in
January l979.

Around the time Mr. Conlon joined the firm, the U.S. Attorney's office
notified the FDA that it declined to prosecute Searle because FDA
regulations were ambiguous and didn't place a "clear and unequivocal"
obligation on the company to submit certain adverse tests results to the