- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2003

A former Fox News Channel technician accused of smuggling artwork from a palace of one of Saddam Hussein's sons was released without bond yesterday.
Benjamin James Johnson is accused of taking items from a Baghdad palace and shipping them back to the Washington area. U.S. Customs agents discovered a dozen paintings in a cardboard box during a routine search of luggage at Washington Dulles International Airport on Thursday.
"I don't think he realized he was breaking the law," Christopher Amolsch, Mr. Johnson's defense attorney, said after a brief appearance in federal court.
Mr. Johnson, 27, waived his right to a formal reading of the charges and a preliminary hearing. U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry R. Poretz released Mr. Johnson, but ordered him to remain in the Washington area.
Authorities said the pictures which depicted the former Iraqi dictator and his son Uday were taken from Uday's palace while Mr. Johnson was traveling with U.S. troops during the Iraq war.
"There were some journalists who brought back some artifacts of substantially greater value who don't face charges," Mr. Amolsch said. The lawyer contends the Customs Service is engaging in selective enforcement because his client has been the only private citizen charged.
"Anytime that you single out one individual to send a message to the country, that's wrong," the lawyer said.
Fox fired Mr. Johnson, who lives in Alexandria, after he acknowledged bringing back the items.
Under federal law, the government has 30 days to indict Mr. Johnson, who also is charged with making a false statement to federal officials. Both charges carry penalties of up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.
Customs agents also found 40 Iraqi monetary bonds and a visitor's badge from the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait inside his luggage.

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