A federal judge has told Rick Hendrick's lawyers to forget about interrogating the federal prosecutors who have charged him with fraud and money laundering.
Hendrick, who owns the largest privately held dealer group in America, maintains that he was charged in North Carolina last December as part of a vendetta by U.S. prosecutors in New Hampshire.
In April, his attorneys were granted permission by a federal magistrate to question the U.S. Justice Department officials in Asheville, N.C., who brought a 13-count indictment against him and his brother and partner, John Hendrick, in U.S. District Court in Asheville.
But last week that permission was withdrawn.
U.S. District Judge Lacy Thornburg knocked down Hendrick's argument that he is being unfairly singled out for prosecution for paying alleged bribes to American Honda Motor Co. executives in the 1980s and 1990s.
Hendrick's argument is that the federal prosecutor's office in New Hampshire exerted influence on colleagues in North Carolina to prosecute Hendrick.
Thornburg defended the indictments, saying that the North Carolina officials would have been remiss not to look into the dealer's activity, given the accounts of his business dealings with American Honda Motor Co. Inc. that have been published in the media.
New Hampshire officials locked horns with Hendrick during their investigation, from 1993-95, into management corruption at American Honda.
The New Hampshire authorities exposed a nationwide scheme to defraud the auto company of more than $15 million, in which U.S. managers took payoffs from some dealers in return for franchises and vehicle allocations.
The New Hampshire officials successfully prosecuted 18 former company managers, two dealers and two company vendors. Hendrick was never charged in New Hampshire and was less cooperative than other Honda dealers in the investigation.
Other Honda dealers openly testified about acquiring franchises through payoffs and lavish kickbacks to Honda managers, while Hendrick maintained that he had done nothing wrong.
Hendrick characterized his payments of cars and packages of $15,000 to $20,000 in cash to Honda executives as gifts between friends.
In their argument that the New Hampshire office was out to get Hendrick, attorneys for the dealer noted that New Hampshire Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Connolly keeps a framed photo of Hendrick on his office wall.
A federal magistrate granted Hendrick the right to question his North Carolina prosecutors about their motivation for pressing charges against him.
But last week, Thornburg - who will serve as trial judge when the case comes to court this summer - overruled the magistrate.
Thornburg wrote that Hendrick had failed to show any real evidence that he was being prosecuted out of revenge for his 'earlier exercise of his constitutional rights to resist cooperating with the government and to speak out in solidarity with his friends who were being prosecuted.'
The judge called the framed photo 'meager' evidence to warrant challenging the indictments, in light of published reports.