DALLAS — Ross Perot's presidential petition committee used a San Francisco law firm and private detective agency to investigate the backgrounds of state coordinators and other Perot volunteers in some states, an official with the Perot Petition Committee confirmed Wednesday.
During a period when Perot was publicly denying allegations that he frequently used private detectives to investigate business rivals, his committee was paying more than $78,000 to the Callahan & Gibbons Group, a law firm that specializes in private investigations and other security-related matters, according to campaign finance reports and recent billings reviewed by the campaign official.
Perot's campaign reports list the payments--the first $56,000 of which were included for August--as "legal fees." But Clayton Mulford, general counsel to the Perot Petition Committee, said in an interview that the Callahan & Gibbons Group provided a variety of services to the committee, including the deployment of security at some local Perot for President offices, a detailed study of drug policy and "background checks" and credit histories of some state coordinators to determine if they had criminal records or were unsuitable to handle large sums of money.
After the Perot Petition Committee's payments to Callahan & Gibbons were first reported Tuesday night by CBS News, Mulford agreed Wednesday to provide some details about the relationship. He said the firm was hired, without Perot's knowledge, during a chaotic period last spring when thousands of citizens began flocking to Perot petition offices and in some cases got into heated disputes over who should serve as local or state coordinators.
"We had ex-cons, ex-con men, people who were swindlers and had been convicted of that," Mulford said. "For us, it was a nightmare."
The committee's hiring of Callahan & Gibbons fueled new charges Wednesday from former Perot volunteers that he has exercised tight control over his movement and purged any potential dissenters who might object to his running for the presidency. While publicly portraying his organization as a grass-roots "bottom up" effort, Perot was using private investigators "to purposely discredit people and get rid of them," said Bill Sweet, the former Perot coordinator in Ohio who said he has been researching credit investigations conducted on ex-Perot coordinators across the country.
The committee first turned to Callahan & Gibbons to provide security guards in its Frederick, Md., office after a former coordinator allegedly threatened other workers there. Later, amid concerns about possible "financial shenanigans" in some state offices, the committee asked the firm to investigate state coordinators in Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio and a few other states, Mulford said.
"In certain instances, legal background checks were conducted," Mulford said. "If somebody would have asked me if this was a good idea, I don't think I would have said yes."
In at least one case, he said, the firm found that a state coordinator had an arrest record but no convictions. The coordinator was among several who were removed by Dallas headquarters.
Mulford said that Tom Barr, a prominent New York lawyer who was serving as an informal legal adviser to the committee, made the decision to hire Callahan & Gibbons and Perot was not informed.