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HELENA - A six-person jury found Leo Giacometto, a former top Martz administration official and U.S. marshal for Montana, innocent of fraud for filling out a blank invoice and turning it in for travel reimbursement.

Giacometto never in the two-day trial denied filling out the blank invoice, but testified that he didn't mean to deceive anyone with it and didn't think he had.

The misdemeanor trial was heard in Lewis and Clark County Justice Court.

"I'm very, very glad it's over," Giacometto said afterward. "It's been a long, trying process. My son asked me, 'It's a misdemeanor. Why not just settle?' But I didn't do anything wrong. I didn't break the law."

Giacometto traveled to Pendleton, Ore., in June 2001, for a meeting of the Northwest Power Planning Council, a group of appointees from four Northwestern states that looks at energy and wildlife issues in the region. He rode to the meeting with Stan Grace, then also a council member, and had his brother fly him back to Helena to save time, he said.

Giacometto testified he'd been told he could get reimbursed for the cost of a one-way commercial flight for his return trip. When he got back to Helena, Giacometto said, he got a blank invoice from West Air, a Helena company that fuels and services private planes, and filled it out for $375 - what he thought was a rough estimate of a one-way airplane ticket.

Lewis and Clark County Attorney Leo Gallagher argued that Giacometto filled in the invoice because it looked official and he knew he needed original receipts to get reimbursed for travel.

Gallagher also tried to erode Giacometto's story that he flew home to save time because he wanted to see his 14-year-old son, who was home from military school. Gallagher suggested Giacometto really wanted to spend time in Seeley Lake with his brothers.

Giacometto testified that he and his brothers ran into bad weather shortly after they took off and had to land the plane at dusk in Seeley Lake. Gallagher pointed out that such testimony meant the brothers had been in the air "flying up and down the Rocky Mountain Front" for almost five hours when they landed in Seeley Lake. Yet receipts show the plane required less fuel after that trip than it had when Giacometto's brother first touched down in Oregon, after a much shorter flight, the prosecutor said.

Receipts show the three Giacometto brothers rented a cabin for $98 and had a $107 dinner bill while in Seeley Lake.

Gallagher ended his argument saying that the people who brought the case to light weren't "big shots," like Giacometto, but "people in the trenches" who know what the rules are and know what it means to follow them.

"Good government starts right here," Gallagher said.

Giacometto's lawyer, Jim Hunt of Helena, said Giacometto may have made a mistake when he filled out the blank invoice, but he wasn't trying to deceive anyone.

"Where his actions perfect? No," Hunt said. "Where they criminal? No."

Gallagher said he was disappointed with the verdict.

"But the jury system is the best we've got and we're willing to abide by the jury's verdict," he said.

Giacometto last year was named in an investigator's report on the drunk-driving crash that killed House Majority Leader Paul Sliter, R-Somers, in August 2001. Giacometto had been at the Marysville restaurant where Sliter, former Martz chief policy adviser Shane Hedges and other Republicans were socializing that night. Witnesses said they saw Giacometto, who was first on the scene, trying to hide beer cans and bottles that had spilled from Hedges' wrecked pickup, in which Sliter had been riding.

Giacometto resigned from the council in March 2002, saying he had become "a distraction" to Gov. Martz and her administration because of news stories about him. He is a senior vice president and lobbyist for Compressus Inc., a telemedicine company.

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