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SC lawyer: Cops making arrests in Phelps case

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Authorities in the South Carolina countywhere Michael Phelps was photographed smoking from a marijuanapipehave been arresting people as they seek to make a case against thesuperstar swimmer, lawyers for two arrested people said Thursday.

Attorneys Joseph McCulloch and Dick Harpootlian told TheAssociated Press they each represent a client charged withpossession of marijuana who were questioned about the party Phelpsattended near the University of South Carolina campus in November.

The lawyers said the two clients were renters at the house wherethe party apparently took place. Harpootlian said his client was atthe party, but didn't see Phelps smoke marijuana, while McCullochsaid his client wasn't there. The two have since moved and werearrested after police executed a search warrant at their new homeand accused them of having a small amount of marijuana there.

"After they arrested him, they didn't ask him, 'Where did youget the marijuana?' or 'Who sold it to you?' Almost all thequestions they asked him were about Michael Phelps," Harpootliansaid.

The lawyers would not name their clients, who each face up to 30days in jail and a $200 fine if convicted on the pending charges.

The Richland County Sheriff's Department would not comment onthe lawyers' remarks.

"As soon as we're ready to release information on this case wewill and we're still in the middle of this investigation," saidLt. Chris Cowan.

After the photo was published Feb. 1, Sheriff Leon Lott said hisoffice would investigate and possibly charge Phelps, thoughofficials have not specified what the offense might be.

Phelps, 23, and his representatives have not disputed thephoto's accuracy. Phelps has issued a public apology, acknowledging"regrettable" behavior and "bad judgment" after the photoappeared. USA Swimming has suspended Phelps for three months andthe Kellogg Co. has cut ties with him, although other sponsors aresticking with the swimmer.

McCulloch, who said his client was out of town at the time,doubted that anything his client told authorities would assist themin the case against Phelps.

"Our clients answered questions but I don't know that theirinformation would be helpful to law enforcement," McCulloch said."It seems to me that Richland County has a host of its own crimeproblems much more serious than a kid featured in a photograph witha bong in his hand."

Lott has said Phelps should not get a break because of his fame.Harpootlian said that he believes police are being overzealous.

"I find it amazing the justification is they don't want totreat him any differently just because he is a celebrity, and he isbeing treated far differently than any other Joe Blow who mighthave smoked marijuana four or five months ago."

Under South Carolina law, possession of one ounce or less ofmarijuana is a misdemeanor that carries a fine up to $200 and 30days in jail for the first offense. Possession of drugparaphernalia is a $500 fine.

Columbia television station WIS-TV was first to report earlierthis week that eight arrests related to the party had been made,but did not name a source. McCulloch said college students andlawyers have told him that about eight arrests have been made.

Lott has made fighting drug crimes a central plank of hiscareer. He rose from patrol officer to captain of the narcoticsdivision in the early 1990s. He was first elected sheriff in 1996and has held the post since.

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