WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Court of Appeals Friday overturned the conviction of former Paine-Webber Inc., vice president Lance Wilson for providing a federal official with an illegal gratuity.

A three-judge panel said it reversed Wilson's January 1993 conviction by a U.S. District Court jury here because his January 1992 indictment for providing an expense-paid theater trip to New York for Dubois Gilliam and his wife in September 1986 fell beyond the five-year statute of limitations for the prosecution of such crimes.

Gilliam, who at the time was a deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was instrumental in approving grants for housing projects partly owned by Wilson.

The reversal of Wilson's conviction was not unexpected because the appeals court said in May 1993, when it postponed the six-month jail sentence imposed by the judge in the district court case, that there was a "substantial question" if Wilson had validly waived the statute of limitations.

Wilson, an attorney in private practice who has been doing legal work for United Daniels Securities Inc., a New York City-based municipal firm, hopes to return to investment banking, said Theodore Wells, an attorney with the New Jersey law firm of Lowenstein, Sandler, Kohl, Fisher & Boyle, who argued his case before the appeals court.

Beside the charge of providing an illegal gratuity, Wilson was originally charged with 20 other fraud and conspiracy counts, but he was acquitted of those charges in his 14-week district court trial.

Despite reversing Wilson's conviction, the appeals court Friday refused to overturn the convictions of Fort Worth developer Leonard Briscoe and Nebraska attorney Maurice David Steier, who also had been charged with providing illegal gratuities to Gilliam.

Both were tried along with Wilson and were also acquitted of the more serious fraud and conspiracy charges that involved the submission of bond financing commitment letters to HUD as part of an application for Urban Development Action grants.

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