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Neighbor says Lewis had banking system know-how

By PAMELA SHERROD

CHICAGO -- Testimony at the trial of James W. Lewis, accused of trying to extort $1 million from the makers of Tylenol, showed he claimed to know how to transfer money from one bank account to another by computer.

A former neighbor of Lewis testified in U.S. District Court Thursday Lewis once told him he could transfer money into a bank account and send it somewhere else before anyone found out.

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Lewis is charged with demanding $1 million to stop last year's spree of cyanide poisonings. Seven Chicago area people died one year ago after swallowing cyanide-induced Extra Strength Tylenol capsules. No one has been charged in the killings.

The hand-printed extortion letter sent to Johnson & Johnson, the maker of Tylenol, demanded $1 million to 'stop the killings.' It requested the money be placed in a bank account of a Chicago travel agency where Lewis' wife, LeAnn, worked in the summer of 1982.

Defense attorney Michael Monico seeks to prove Lewis wrote and sent the extortion letter not to get money but to get revenge on Frederick Miller McCahey, owner of the now defunct Lakeside Travel Agency.

The trial was recessed after Thursday's testimony and was scheduled to resume Monday.

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Thomas Bullistron, who once lived in the same apartment building as Lewis, said Lewis once told him 'at any given time anyone could walk into a bank of Chicago and transfer maybe $1 million into an account and have it sent before anybody would even know about it.'

Bullistron also testified Lewis told him he could check whether a bank account was open or closed.

The owner of the Chicago Tax Service, who employed Lewis as a part-time accountant, testified Lewis appeared knowledgeable about computers.

Another witness testified Lewis had a heated argument with the owner of the travel agency for allegedly threatening Lewis' wife.

McCahey allegedly diverted funds from the company and left employees without a payroll. Some employees cashed bad checks and were not reimbursed by the company or McCahey.

Margaret Vakas, a bookkeeper at the agency, testified she knew Lewis and his wife and had worked at the same agency as Mrs. Lewis.

She said a wage claim hearing was held last spring on the bad checks. She testified under cross-examination that Lewis and McCahey had a heated argument in which McCahey threatened Lewis' wife.

Monico said McCahey ran the travel agency 'into the ground' and Lewis was acting out of a 'misguided sense of justice.'

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Robert McKnew, a senior vice president of Continental National Bank, said the bank would have accepted a $1 million deposit if the FBI had allowed Johnson & Johnson to pay the extortion demand.

Lewis, 36, was arrested in New York last December. He pleaded innocent to federal extortion charges Dec. 29.

Prosecutors said Lewis also was suspected of mailing a death threat to President Reagan.

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