- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2003

RICHMOND — Former Virginia Republican Party Executive Director Edmund A. Matricardi III was sentenced yesterday to three years’ probation and fined $5,000 for illegally intercepting a Democratic Party conference call.

In a steady voice, Matricardi apologized before U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer for illegally accessing two calls among the state’s top Democrats in March last year.

“I stand before you a humbled man. I made a mistake and I’m paying a terrible price for it. I accept full responsibility for my actions,” Matricardi said, as his parents watched from a front-row seat a few feet behind him.

Matricardi, who turned 35 on July 4, said he did not know when he joined the call using access codes provided by a disgruntled former Democratic operative that he was breaking the law, but he acknowledged that it was a mistake nonetheless.

“I apologize to the governor and to the Democrats for listening to this call. I apologize to Virginians for this distraction. I apologize to my wife, to my little girls and to my parents,” he said.

Judge Spencer said he agonized about Matricardi’s sentence.

“A number of things would have pushed it to jail time to send a message, but I tried to give Mr. Matricardi the individual treatment that he deserves,” Judge Spencer said. “The thing that concerned me is, I think of all the young Democrats and young Republicans forming on college campuses and getting ready to join the culture wars.”

At one point, Judge Spencer abruptly rebuked Matricardi’s attorney, Steven D. Benjamin, as he opened his remarks by playing down the illegality of Matricardi’s actions.

“The crime you are to sentence Mr. Matricardi for is his use of a phone to listen to public officials conducting public business,” Mr. Benjamin said before Judge Spencer cut him off.

“Talk about your client and talk about his future, and don’t try to dodge blame, because if you do, you’re going to tick me off,” Judge Spencer said.

Matricardi was ordered to perform 180 hours of community service during three years.

The sentencing leaves Matricardi — who oversaw the Republican Party of Virginia’s day-to-day operations during three years of unparalleled ascendancy — unable to hold public office or vote. His law license had been suspended.

Matricardi, in an unannounced appearance before Judge Spencer on April 1, pleaded guilty to a single felony count of intercepting a wire communication. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to seek probation and a fine but no jail time.

Known for tirelessly tormenting Democrats, Matricardi admitted in his plea that he monitored a private conference call involving Democratic lawmakers, their aides and attorneys, and, for a while, Gov. Mark Warner.

The Democrats were discussing their legal challenge to the Republican-controlled 2001 reapportionment of legislative and congressional districts, which helped the Republican Party leap from 52 of the 100 House of Delegates seats to 64 that year.

In a summary of their evidence, federal prosecutors said Matricardi listened to and recorded the Democrats for about 2 hours.

“I think it is appropriate that Mr. Matricardi has finally acknowledged what he did was wrong,” Mr. Warner said. “Hopefully this successful prosecution will curtail the win-at-all-costs mentality we see too often from some political operatives.”

After resigning his post in Virginia, Matricardi took a similar, behind-the-scenes job last summer with the South Carolina Republican Party, which was beset at the time by a Federal Election Commission audit and struggling to pay its bills. Successful fund raising in last year’s gubernatorial and Senate races left the party flush with cash, and nearly all the FEC’s questions are resolved.

Virginia State Police began investigating Matricardi based on information they received from state Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, a Republican.

In April 2002, a Richmond grand jury indicted Matricardi on state charges, which were dismissed a month later, when the FBI took over. In January a federal grand jury indicted him on five felony counts, each punishable by five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

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