Basketball / BJ-League

Story behind drug scandal that rocked bj-league to core

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Nearly six months after being released from Osaka Prefectural Police custody, Dana Washington, wife of bj-league legend and former Osaka Evessa star Lynn Washington, decided it was time to tell her side of the story.

During an exclusive interview with The Japan Times earlier this week, Dana Washington spoke for the first time about her arrest on drug charges in February and the traumatizing weeks that preceded her May 25 release.

She described those three months as “horrible,” saying it was the first time she’d been away from her three children for an extended period of time. But also adding to her emotional turmoil was the fact, she said, that the Evessa “abandoned (me) . . . were embarrassed to even know my name.”

A brief recap: She pleaded guilty to drug possession, a violation of Japan’s Cannabis Control Law. She did not get the 3½-year sentence that prosecutors sought, nor was she forced to pay a fine.

“It was very, very traumatizing to come home after going through all this,” she said by phone from San Jose, California.

Dana Washington’s name was on a package sent from the United States to Osaka last November, and it contained about 1 kg of marijuana, according to Osaka police.

Washington claims she has never used or possessed marijuana in Japan. The 33-year-old admitted, however, during the phone interview that she’s had a legal prescription in California for medical marijuana since just after college.

She said an acquaintance sent the package to her in Japan without her consent. She was arrested on Feb. 23 after testing positive for marijuana, which she said was consumed in California before returning to Japan earlier that month.

Reflecting on what happened before her arrest, Washington said if “somebody was actually thinking of helping me (by sending marijuana to Japan), Lynn would’ve gone nuts.”

Japan’s drug laws are among the strictest in the world, and Dana’s husband had lived here for much of his adult life, so he was aware of that.

An Indiana University product, Lynn Washington, who played for American college coaching legend Bob Knight, spent nearly his entire pro basketball career in Japan, beginning with the Niigata Albirex BB during the team’s JBL days, then suiting up for the Evessa since 2005 when the bj-league was established, winning a trio of titles with Osaka and setting a standard of excellence for all frontcourt players.

“This acquaintance of mine had absolutely no problem getting medical cannabis because they grew it themselves,” Washington wrote in an email after she was pressed for more details after the phone interview. “What they sent was like taking $5 out of their own pocket, not a big loss for them. They actually thought they were doing a favor.”

Japanese authorities estimated the street value of the marijuana detected by customs officials in Osaka at ¥9 million.

But Washington insists that even though she admitted “I would like to bring medical marijuana to Japan,” she never expected anyone would follow through with it.

“My name was on that box. That’s all they needed to convict me,” she says now of the Osaka legal authorities.

That package was sent to Japan in November, a month in which Dana Washington went to California to visit her family. Her father had suffered a heart attack and her parents were going through a divorce. Indeed, it was a difficult time for her.

She visited her doctor and took medical marijuana while in California, helping alleviate the pain she had.

“I started feeling better,” she said.

The weeks quickly passed; Dana was in California while Lynn remained in Osaka, fulfilling his role as the Evessa’s team leader and go-to star. But in December, he suffered a torn pectoral muscle that kept him sidelined for a few weeks.

Washington’s desire to be a dutiful, supportive daughter while her father recovered from his heart attack in California clashed with her husband’s situation.

“My husband said, ‘I need you, I need you,’ (so) I’m pulled away,” she said.

On Feb. 23, a few weeks after her return to Japan, police came to the Washington residence “and told me I only needed to go down for questioning,” she said.

“They did not tell me they were arresting me until four or five hours later in the police station.

“They just said they were going to talk to me. I even told them the name of the person who did this, because I told them not to do this,” she added.

The police interpreter who showed up on the day of her arrest “barely spoke English,” she continued, saying that compounded the problem.

“I was just extremely scared. I didn’t know my rights. They wouldn’t let me speak with Lynn or anybody. I was thinking the team would send me a lawyer ASAP. . . “

While in police custody, on many occasions, there were eight to 10 hours a day of interrogation, but “they would twist my thoughts and my words.”

She described the sessions as “brutal,” and said the authorities threatened to “take my kids to foster care if I don’t speak.”

“They thought we were involved in this huge drug ring, thought the whole team was involved,” she said, crying. “It was a mess. They treat marijuana like hell in Japan.”

Washington was moved from one detention facility to another, and she described the pre-sentence building as a nearly 90-year-old prison, where she was “segregated from everybody.”

While she was locked up, police showed her photographs of the box containing cannabis shipped to Japan that led to her arrest.

“I couldn’t believe somebody would actually do that and send the medicine,” she said.

Dana Washington’s patience and faith were put to the test during her time away from her family.

“It was very difficult to stay strong. By the grace of God, that’s how I got through it. He just never left me,” she said. “I’m thankful that I had his comfort in there (prison). That’s all I had and I had to hope. And I knew I was going to leave and knew I was going to go home. I knew I didn’t do anything wrong, and knew that justice would be done.”

Weeks earlier, when she had returned to Kansai Airport in Osaka, Washington was in for a bad surprise, as police dogs swarmed her as she picked up her bags before heading home.

“I had come to find out that police were following Lynn for three months,” she said. “They saw him going to practice, going to school (with the kids).”

In her defense, Dana Washington claims she told Osaka police that packages sent to individuals are not necessarily wanted or requested.

“Do you understand there are people that will send us things?” she recalled, citing a pair of examples: “women’s underwear mailed to Lynn and half-eaten candy in the mail. It’s horrible.”

Lynn Washington, linked by police to his wife’s case, was arrested on March 13 and detained by Osaka police for 18 days before his release — and complete exoneration in the case. On the night of his release, he told The Japan Times it was “a very humbling experience.”

He also had this to say: “God bless the best criminal lawyer in Osaka. I will not be fined or deported.”

The lawyer’s name is Ichiro Morioka, a 70-something former prosecutor whom Dana Washington praised for his kindness and professionalism throughout her lengthy ordeal.

“My lawyer came to see me every single day. He was like my angel,” she recalled. “He would take my children, when they were still there out to dinner. He would support Lynn. He was amazing, he really was.”

What’s more, Morioka dutifully applied for bail for her for four straight weeks. After four rejections, he was nervous, and she remembered him saying “after the third time, the judge could look at that that it’s not good.”

And in relaying the most intimate of messages, Morioka “told my mother I love her,” Dana Washington said with emotion.

While the Washington children returned to California when their mother was in police custody, her three months in detention tore apart the family’s close bond, she said.

“I was not allowed to write letters to my children, not allowed to receive letters,” Dana Washington said.

* * *

Lynn Washington’s biggest fan, his wife, first saw him play basketball during his junior high school days.

“We’ve been together for 17 years,” she said. “It’s been a long road. We’ve grown up together.”

His extraordinary talents took him from Andrew Hill High School in San Jose to San Jose City College to Indiana University before a pro career that included two bj-league MVP awards and two All-Star Game MVP awards (2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons) for the Evessa, along with becoming the first player in bj-league history to score 5,000 career points.

It all ended after his arrest. He was forced to retire and was “blackballed” by the team and the league, he told this reporter.

“Lynn and I both did not like the fact that the Evessa tried to get Lynn to use a ‘team’ lawyer to settle things with his contract,” Dana Washington said. “Lynn brought in his own lawyer and the Evessa were not happy with Lynn at all. Right away, Lynn knew the Evessa were trying to get out of paying him any contract money owed him.

“To add to this, I was never shown support from the Evessa from the time I was arrested till this day.”

The Evessa era of dominance — seven straight playoff appearances and six consecutive Final Fours (2005-11) — came to a crashing halt last spring, when the Kyoto Hannaryz knocked them off in the Western Conference semifinals without their longtime heart-and-soul presence at power forward. (This season, the Evessa are 1-6 after a loss on Saturday.)

“I’m sad it ended this way, but we do have faith that God has bigger and better things for us,” said Dana Washington, who maintained a daily diary while in police custody.

She added: “It was a stressful time, especially for Lynn. Every time he passed somebody on the street he was being stared at like he was a drug smuggler.

“I feel terrible for him that his career ended with my illness, for something that somebody else did to us. Yes, I could’ve been more stern in saying, ‘Do not send anything here.’ I was just assuming people would know better.”