Journalist Accused Of Impersonating Federal Officials

CLEVELAND (AP) - A journalist was charged with impersonating federal officials to get documents in the case against two Japanese scientists accused of stealing research material from the Cleveland Clinic.

Avi Lidgi, 27, falsely identified himself three times on May 17 to get a list of the government's exhibits faxed to him, the U.S.

Attorney's office said. He got the secret list from the U.S. Attorney's office and a law firm representing one of the scientists.

A Cleveland grand jury Wednesday indicted Lidgi, of Santa Monica, Calif., on charges that he pretended to be a federal prosecutor and an assistant to a federal judge.

If convicted, Lidgi faces up to three years in prison and fines of up to $250,000. Lidgi told The Plain Dealer on Wednesday that he was unaware of the indictments and that his newspaper fired him.

His phone was not in service Thursday.

Lidgi was a staff member of the Los Angeles bureau of the Tokyo-based Yomiuri Shimbun, which has more than 10 million subscribers. The newspaper issued a statement saying it prohibits employees from falsely identifying themselves and that the reporter acted on his own.

In the espionage case, Hiroaki Serizawa, a researcher at the University of Kansas Medical Center, and his friend and former Cleveland Clinic scientist Takashi Okamoto are accused of stealing biological materials used for research on Alzheimer's disease.

The trial is scheduled to begin May 13 in Akron. It would be the first criminal prosecution by the U.S. Department of Justice under a 1996 law intended to prevent the theft of trade secrets by foreign governments.

Serizawa and Okamoto have both pleaded innocent.

(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)