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Musician pleads innocent to heroin smuggling

July 2, 1997 GMT

CHIBA, Japan (AP) _ Rock ‘n’ roll Hall of Famer Rick Danko told a Japanese court Wednesday that his arrest on heroin smuggling charges was a mistake _ a package was supposed to contain prescription medication, not the heroin that was inside.

``I’m not guilty. ... I did not intend to import drugs,″ Danko, 54, told the Chiba District Court, 20 miles east of Tokyo.

Danko said he asked his wife by telephone to send him some ``medication″ and he thought she understood he meant the drug codeine, for which he has a prescription.

``I’m just very surprised that she did something that stupid,″ Danko, who gained fame as bassist and vocalist for The Band, said through an interpreter.

Prosecutors have accused Danko of instructing his wife to send .04 ounce of heroin on a flight from the United States. Fedex officials detected heroin in the package at customs at Tokyo’s international airport on May 3 and notified police. Danko was arrested May 6 at a Tokyo hotel.

Prosecutors are seeking a prison sentence of 2 1/2 years. The three-judge panel said it would rule on the case July 25.

Danko was brought to the courtroom in handcuffs, which were removed during three-hour hearing, and appeared in good spirits.

He told the court he has used heroin in the past to help suppress persistent pain caused by an automobile accident in 1968. He said he had also used prescription morphine as well as the codeine.

He also admitted to snorting a bag of heroin 20 minutes after his flight to Japan took off from New York in April.

When presiding Judge Yasuro Tanaka asked if he would have used the heroin in the package had it reached him, Danko replied: ``Likely all at once.″

Danko said he would seek professional help if he is allowed to return to the United States.

He also accused Japanese investigators of trying to entrap him into admitting guilt and had threatened him during questioning, saying the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration ``would go to my house and tear it apart.″