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Rice trial on Internet charge delayed

August 16, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The federal trial of Martinsburg businessman Thomas D. Rice on a criminal sex charge has been postponed.

A federal judge in Roanoke, Va., granted a request last week to delay Rice's Aug. 23 trial after Rice hired a new attorney to replace the lawyer who had been defending him against charges stemming from an Internet sex sting in Bedford, Va.

The case has been tentatively rescheduled for Nov. 1, according to Rice's new attorney.

The FBI arrested Rice, 58, at his Martinsburg home June 7 after a federal grand jury indicted him on a charge of traveling in interstate commerce with the intent to engage in sexual relations with an individual under the age of 18.

The federal charge followed Rice's Feb. 20 arrest in Bedford County, Va. Police there alleged Rice had driven 190 miles from Martinsburg to have sex with who he thought was a 13-year-old boy he met on the Internet.

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The "boy" was really an undercover Bedford County sheriff's deputy working an Internet sex sting operation.

Bedford attorney Harry Garrett said in a statement after Rice's arrest his client knew he wasn't speaking with a juvenile.

"Mr. Rice had several telephone conversations with the officer and had a clear understanding that the voice belonged to an adult," the statement said.

The Bedford County Commonwealth Attorney's Office charged Rice with attempted indecent liberties against a child and attempted crimes against nature with a child, but those charges were dismissed June 25 in light of pending federal prosecution.

Garrett had been representing Rice in the state case, but Rice said he hired a new attorney because Garrett does not handle federal cases.

Randy Cargill of Roanoke, Va.-based Magee, Foster, Goldstein and Sayers is now representing Rice in the federal case.

Neither Rice nor Cargill had any comment on the upcoming federal trial.

A conviction on the federal charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in a federal penitentiary and a $250,000 fine.

The U.S. Attorney's Office is trying to take Rice's Martinsburg home, his car and his computer under federal forfeiture laws.

Police allege Rice and the sheriff's deputy had corresponded through computers and by telephone and had arranged a meeting outside a Bedford elementary school.

Rice is free on an unsecured bond that requires him to pay $10,000 if he fails to show up in court.

A former aide to past West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton, Rice resigned from the Blue Ridge Outlet Center in Martinsburg days after his arrest in Bedford County.

In late February, Rice said he was running a consulting firm out of his home.

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