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Thursday, February 12, 2009


Authorities in the South Carolina county where Michael Phelps was photographed smoking from a MARIJUANA PIPE have been arresting people as they seek to make a case against the superstar swimmer, lawyers for two arrested people said Thursday. Attorneys Joseph McCulloch and Dick Harpootlian told The Associated Press they each represent a client charged with possession of marijuana who were questioned about the party Phelps attended near the University of South Carolina campus in November.

The lawyers said the two clients were renters at the house where the party apparently took place. Harpootlian said his client was at the party, but didn’t see Phelps smoke marijuana, while McCulloch said his client wasn’t there. The two have since moved and were arrested after police executed a search warrant at their new home and accused them of having a small amount of marijuana there. “After they arrested him, they didn’t ask him, ‘Where did you get the marijuana?’ or ‘Who sold it to you?’ Almost all the questions they asked him were about Michael Phelps,” Harpootlian said.

The lawyers would not name their clients, who each face up to 30 days in jail and a $200 fine if convicted on the pending charges. The Richland County Sheriff’s Department would not comment on the lawyers’ remarks. “As soon as we’re ready to release information on this case we will and we’re still in the middle of this investigation,” said Lt. Chris Cowan.

After the photo was published Feb. 1, Sheriff Leon Lott said his office would investigate and possibly charge Phelps, though officials have not specified what the offense might be. Phelps, 23, and his representatives have not disputed the photo’s accuracy. Phelps has issued a public apology, acknowledging “regrettable” behavior and “bad judgment” after the photo appeared. USA Swimming has suspended Phelps for three months and the Kellogg Co. has cut ties with him, although other sponsors are sticking with the swimmer.

McCulloch, who said his client was out of town at the time, doubted that anything his client told authorities would assist them in the case against Phelps. “Our clients answered questions but I don’t know that their information would be helpful to law enforcement,” McCulloch said. “It seems to me that Richland County has a host of its own crime problems much more serious than a kid featured in a photograph with a MARIJUANA 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 to treat him any differently just because he is a celebrity, and he is being treated far differently than any other Joe Blow who might have smoked marijuana four or five months ago.”

Under South Carolina law, possession of one ounce or less of marijuana is a misdemeanor that carries a fine up to $200 and 30 days in jail for the first offense. Possession of drug paraphernalia is a $500 fine. Columbia television station WIS-TV was first to report earlier this week that eight arrests related to the party had been made, but did not name a source. McCulloch said college students and lawyers have told him that about eight arrests have been made.

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

In related news, legions of marijuana advocates are urging a boycott of products made by Kellogg Co. after it cut ties with Olympic hero Michael Phelps because he was photographed using a bong.

The leader of the Marijuana Policy Project called the cereal maker's action "hypocritical and disgusting," and said he'd never seen his membership so angry, with more than 2,300 signing an online petition.

"Kellogg's had no problem signing up Phelps when he had a conviction for drunk driving, an illegal act that could have killed someone," said Rob Kampia, the group's executive director. To drop him for "choosing to relax" with a substance the group considers safer than beer "is an outrage," Kampia said. There was no immediate response from Kellogg.

Last week, the company announced Phelps' conduct was "not consistent with the image of Kellogg." The swimmer has been appearing on Frosted Flakes and Corn Flakes boxes since September.

It is amazing to see how a small incident such as smoking a bong can drastically effect the career of a "Superstar" In another article, Michael Phelps has been reported as saying he is considering ending his career as a professional swimmer.

Michael Phelps, the US swim star who won a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, will decide in the next two months whether or not he will compete at the 2012 London Olympics. Phelps, suspended for three months by USA Swimming after a picture of him with a marijuana pipe was published by a British newspaper last week, will make his decision before climbing back into the pool for his next competitive race. "It will take a few months," Phelps told the Baltimore Sun. "I'll give it 30 or 60 days. I think it will be better. "I'm already happier now than I was, just having some part of my life back to normal, being able to swim again, having fun, joking around."

Phelps, 23, is pondering his future after a media frenzy that followed the publication of the photograph from a party in South Carolina, one that cost him a sponsorship from cereal-maker Kellogg, whose deal expires at month's end. Phelps has been working out here in his hometown, where children clamor for his autograph and to have pictures taken with him, even after the uproar and the sleepless nights that followed. "I'm not feeling too good physically, but I'm actually able to sleep now. I had a real hard time sleeping over the last two weeks or so," Phelps said. "Just swimming and thinking about everything going on. Everything is back to what I call normal, I guess."

Whether Phelps wants to swim at an Olympics in the nation where his troubling photo was published is uncertain, but the swim star said he has been able to laugh at being the butt of jokes over the matter. "Unemployment is high. Foreclosures are high. Michael Phelps is high," joked comedian David Letterman, who also spoke of a day being 23 and cloudy before saying, "No, wait, that's Michael Phelps."

Phelps went from hosting the season opener of Saturday Night Live to being a punch-line for the famed US sketch comedy television show, which took issue with Kellogg dropping Phelps and the person who took the photograph. "If you're at a party and you see Michael Phelps smoking a bong and your first thought isn't 'Wow, I get to party with Michael Phelps' and instead you take a picture and sell it to a tabloid, you should take a long, hard look in the mirror," cast member Seth Meyers said during the Phelps-related segment.

"I saw the SNL skit and I was just dying. We definitely got a huge kick out of it," Phelps said. "My mom saw it, my sisters saw it, and everyone was e-mailing each other and sending each other the link, so it was pretty good."

Related links:

MICHAEL PHELPS - Toking in the Boys Room