Journalist Pleads Guilty To Impersonating Officials

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

Avi Lidgi, 27, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., falsely identified himself in three telephone calls May 17 to get a list of the government's exhibits faxed to him, the U.S. attorney's office said.

Lidgi pretended to be a federal prosecutor and an assistant to a federal judge. He got the secret list from the U.S. attorney's office and a law firm representing one of the scientists, according to court documents.

Lidgi faces up to three years in prison and fines of up to $250,000. U.S. District Judge Donald C. Nugent will sentence Lidgi on April 12.

His phone was not in service Monday.

Lidgi was a research assistant in the Los Angeles bureau of the Tokyo-based Yomiuri Shimbun, which has more than 10 million subscribers. The newspaper issued a statement last month 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 pleaded innocent.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)