- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

RICHMOND Federal prosecutors joined state authorities yesterday in a politically charged investigation into claims that Republicans illegally listened to confidential Democratic conference calls in March.
U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty and Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney David Hicks will direct the inquiry that already has produced felony indictments against the former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia, Edward Matricardi III.
"This is a partnership. It's going to be just like Project Exile has been, no different than what we've been doing over the past five years," Mr. Hicks said, referring to a joint federal-state crackdown on crimes committed with firearms.
The addition of Mr. McNulty's office substantially boosts the authority and scope of the investigation that now includes aides to two of the state's most powerful Republican lawmakers.
Mr. Hicks asked for federal authorities to become involved because a state law makes it difficult for the state police to investigate legislators.
"In response to requests received from the superintendent of the Virginia State Police and the commonwealth's attorney for the city of Richmond, I have decided to join their investigation into allegations of eavesdropping on conference calls involving state government officials," Mr. McNulty said in a statement released by his office.
The move also brings the Richmond office of the FBI into the investigation, Mr. McNulty said.
It could also shift the case against Mr. Matricardi from state court in Richmond into U.S. District Court. Mr. Matricardi faces trial on four counts of violating Virginia's wiretapping law, each punishable by up to five years in prison.
Court papers say Mr. Matricardi obtained the phone number and pass codes for telephone conference calls on March 22 and 25 in which legislative Democrats, party officials and their attorneys plotted strategy for a lawsuit challenging the 2001 Republican-controlled redistricting.
Mr. Matricardi has pleaded not guilty and contends that he had permission to join the calls because he got the numbers from former Democratic operatives.
According to papers filed late Tuesday in Richmond Circuit Court, Mr. Matricardi had a right to listen under Virginia's Freedom of Information Act.
Steven Benjamin, Mr. Matricardi's attorney, argued in the defense motions that any meeting of three or more legislators falls under Virginia's open meetings and records laws.
"Ed Matricardi, like every other citizen of this state, had the right to be on that conference call and record what was said. The Virginia Freedom of Information Act requires that that meeting be open to the public," he said in an interview.
On April 17, investigators learned that a cellular telephone registered to Claudia D. Tucker, chief of staff to House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., was automatically logged in to the March 25 call.
Mr. Wilkins, Amherst Republican, put Miss Tucker on paid leave during the inquiry and said he knew nothing of the calls.
One day later, House Republican Leader H. Morgan Griffith alerted Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore that the spokesman for the House Republican caucus, Jeff Ryer, may have witnessed some of the illegal eavesdropping.
Neither Miss Tucker nor Mr. Ryer has been charged. Mr. Wilkins and Mr. Griffith have not been implicated in the case.


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