- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2002

RICHMOND State wiretapping charges against Edmund A. Matricardi III were dismissed yesterday over the vehement objections of his attorney, but the former executive director of the Virginia Republican Party could still face charges if he is indicted by a federal grand jury.
"I object to [the state] walking away from these indictments and denying Mr. Matricardi the right to confront his accusers," Steven D. Benjamin told Richmond Circuit Court Judge Robert Duling.
Last week, at the request of Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney David Hicks, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced that it, along with the FBI, would join the investigation.
By dropping the charges, state and federal authorities can now work alongside each other and possibly try Mr. Matricardi in federal court, said William Dinkin, an assistant commonwealth's attorney.
"It appears this activity was broader in scope than originally indicated," Mr. Dinkin told Judge Duling.
Outside the courtroom after the hearing, Mr. Dinkin, said, "There is no guarantee he won't get reindicted."
A federal grand jury in Richmond will determine whether anyone is charged.
Mr. Matricardi, 33, was indicted last month on four wiretapping charges. A Richmond grand jury had found there was enough evidence that he might have monitored private Democratic Party conference calls on March 22 and March 25 without permission. The calls involved high-level state Democrats including, at one point, Gov. Mark R. Warner who were discussing Virginia's legislative-redistricting problems.
Mr. Benjamin argued he has had difficulty obtaining information from the commonwealth's attorney's office, which he accused of stonewalling because of partisan politics. He said exonerating Mr. Matricardi quickly was especially important, because Mr. Matricardi is now unemployed and his wife is expecting their first child in September.
"There were other people on that call, but Mr. Matricardi was singled out for prosecution because of his political position, because of his political speech . He is the only one who has been indicted," Mr. Benjamin said.
Mr. Benjamin called several witnesses, including two prominent members of the state Democratic Party, Communications Director Mary Broz and Executive Director Betty H. Jolly.
He asked them why the party had been billed for 49 persons calling in to take part in the phone calls when the itemized list provided by the phone company shows only 48 calls had been placed. He also asked about a discrepancy in the amount of minutes. Neither Miss Broz nor Mrs. Jolly could answer the questions.
"This is a serious irregularity and one that should not go uninvestigated," Mr. Benjamin said.
About a half-dozen Democratic state lawmakers who had been subpoenaed by Mr. Benjamin, including Sens. Leslie L. Byrne of Fairfax and Janet Howell of Reston, traveled more than two hours each way to the hearing.
Murray Janus, an attorney representing the lawmakers, argued that their travel and legal expenses should be reimbursed by Mr. Matricardi since the case was dropped. Judge Duling refused, saying he believed Mr. Benjamin had acted in good faith by calling them to testify, since he had no way of knowing the case was going to be dropped.
"These indictments were an abomination," Mr. Benjamin said outside the courthouse. "They indicted him. Now they're walking away and leaving the stench behind."
Mr. Matricardi, wearing a dark tie with the Declaration of Independence signatories displayed, did not comment after the hearing.
There is no timetable for when a federal grand jury might reach a decision in the case.


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