updated 3/29/2006 6:55:57 PM ET 2006-03-29T23:55:57

A former federal prosecutor and a State Department official were indicted Wednesday on charges of conspiring to conceal evidence during a botched terrorism trial that proved a major embarrassment for the Bush administration.

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard G. Convertino, 45, and State Department Regional Security Officer Harry Raymond Smith III, 49, were charged with conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false declarations.

The indictment stemmed from the prosecution of four North African immigrants accused of operating a terrorist cell in Detroit. The case was the nation’s first major terrorism trial after the 2001 attacks, and was hailed by the Bush administration at one point as a victory in the war on terror.

Two of the four men, Karim Koubriti and Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, were convicted in 2003 of conspiring to provide support to terrorists.

However, a federal judge overturned the verdicts at the Justice Department’s request after prosecutors discovered that documents that could have helped the defense were not turned over by the government as required.

Convertino was the lead prosecutor in the case, and Smith helped in the investigation and testified for the government at the trial.

Conspired to hide photographs
The indictment said Convertino and Smith conspired to keep from defense lawyers photographs of a Jordanian hospital that would have undermined the government’s argument that the alleged Detroit cell made surveillance sketches of the place.

Convertino also elicited testimony from Smith and an FBI agent that the sketch matched the hospital and its surrounding area, even though the photographs contradicted that description, the indictment said.

“Mr. Convertino is a highly decorated and veteran federal prosecutor, who over many years consistently acted to preserve the safety of his community, and the Koubriti case is no different,” said his lawyer, William Sullivan. “We will demonstrate that this indictment is manifestly false.”

Sullivan said the indictment was retaliation against Convertino for a pending whistle-blower lawsuit. Convertino has said the government has mounted a smear campaign against him.

Smith’s lawyer, Matthew Leitman, said that Smith is a “dedicated public servant” and that a vigorous defense is planned.

Convertino also was charged with obstruction in a second case in which prosecutors said he gave false information to a judge in an effort to reduce a defendant’s sentence.

The charges against Convertino carry up to 30 years in prison, while those against Smith carry up to 20 years.

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