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Chapman denounces election-fraud charges

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2005

An anti-tax Republican running for a House seat in Virginia said yesterday election fraud charges filed against him are politically motivated and accused the Republican incumbent of hiring a private investigator to trail him.

Steve H. Chapman called the charges "the politics of personal destruction."

"These are false allegations stirred up by my entrenched political opponent," Mr. Chapman said at a press conference outside the Prince William County Courthouse yesterday. "I am fully and completely innocent."

Mr. Chapman, 27, was indicted this week on a felony charge that he lied on a voter registration form Oct. 1 and on a misdemeanor charge that the following month he voted in a district where he did not reside. He was released on his own recognizance, and a court hearing has been scheduled for 9 a.m. today.

State election law requires candidates to live within the district they are seeking to represent as of the April 15 filing deadline.

Mr. Chapman wants to unseat House Finance Chairman Harry J. Parrish, Manassas Republican, who last year voted in favor of a record $1.38 billion tax increase. Mr. Parrish represents the 50th District, which includes parts of Prince William County and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park.

Mr. Chapman said Mr. Parrish had hired an investigator who trailed him for months.

Mr. Parrish, 83, denied any involvement in the case.

"[Neither] I, nor my campaign, has hired any private investigator," Mr. Parrish told The Washington Times yesterday.

Mr. Chapman's attorney Gil Davis said he wants to go to trial immediately to clear his client's name.

"My client is innocent," said Mr. Davis, who represented Paula Jones in a sexual-harassment case against President Clinton in the 1990s.

Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert did not return a call seeking comment yesterday.

Mr. Chapman said he has lived in three different residences in the past six months. He lived at a home in Woodbridge, which is not part of the 50th District; he rented a room in a residence in Manassas Park, and he purchased a condominium in Manassas where he now lives.

Mr. Chapman provided a document signed by a former landlord that states he paid $250 for rent each month from Sept. 27 through Dec. 27 for the room in Manassas Park.

The felony charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Outside the courthouse yesterday, Mr. Chapman was surrounded by supporters, including Prince William County Supervisor Corey A. Stewart, Occoquan District Republican.

"Everybody knows what's going on behind the scenes here politically -- it's the dirty tactics of the good-old-boy network," Mr. Stewart said. "I often wonder why on earth somebody in the twilight of his career would try to destroy a young man's reputation and his career."

Before becoming a delegate, Mr. Parrish served for nearly two decades as mayor of Manassas. His son, Harry J. "Hal" Parrish II, is vice mayor of the Manassas City Council.

Kenneth Klinge, Mr. Parrish's campaign consultant, also denied that the campaign hired a private investigator. Mr. Klinge said he took "some information" to the county commonwealth's attorney's office -- without any prompting from Mr. Parrish -- after becoming convinced there was "something amiss" with Mr. Chapman's residency.

"People who get caught at something always like to blame someone else," Mr. Klinge said. "That's what's going on here."

Chapman communications director Thomas Kopko said the private investigator intruded on the candidate's private life and harassed his business, family and friends.

Trent Barton, who works on the Chapman campaign, said the investigator "vigorously" interviewed people, asking questions that were not "germane" to the campaign. He also sasserted that the investigator was seen taking pictures through Mr. Chapman's bedroom window and was "lurking around."

Mr. Barton said the campaign did not file criminal trespassing charges, and he refused to provide any details of the intrusions he said took place.

Mr. Parrish said this is the ugliest race he has participated in.

"I've gotten accustomed to his running a dirty campaign, and I'm just sorry they are using those tactics," he said.

This is the first primary challenge for Mr. Parrish since he became a delegate in 1982. He faced a general election challenger 18 years ago, but since then has run unopposed.

Mr. Parrish has outraised Mr. Chapman more than 3 to 1 for the June 14 Republican primary election. He had raised $126,242 and spent $116,824 by March 31, according to his campaign finance report, which is posted on the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) Web site, www.vpap.org/index.cfm.

Mr. Chapman had raised $36,767 and spent $26,396, according to the VPAP. He received a $7,421 donation from the Richmond-based Virginia Conservative Action PAC, which is trying to unseat those Republican delegates who last year voted for the tax increase.