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Woman Gets Year in Jail in Bush Debate Tape Case

September 01, 2001|From the Washington Post

WASHINGTON — A former employee of George W. Bush's media advisor was sentenced to a year in jail and fined $3,000 Friday for sending Bush's secret debate briefing materials to his Democratic rival during the presidential campaign, and then lying about it to a grand jury.

Ending one of the more bizarre and titillating episodes of the 2000 campaign, Juanita Yvette Lozano pleaded guilty in an Austin, Texas, court to mail fraud and perjury after admitting to stealing a videotape of Bush practicing for the debates and 120 pages of confidential material from her boss, media consultant Mark McKinnon. She had sent the package in September anonymously to former Vice President Al Gore's debate advisor, lobbyist Tom Downey, who promptly called the FBI.

The incident, which unfolded at the height of the campaign, set off months of intrigue and high-decibel accusations as both presidential campaigns tried to ferret out the mole and distance themselves from a potentially disastrous political situation. So sensitive was the investigation that then-FBI Director Louis J. Freeh oversaw it himself.

Bush operatives accused the Gore campaign of planting a spy in the Republican's camp, and Democrats suggested Bush officials purposely sent the material as a dirty trick to embarrass Gore. But in the end, the truth was far less intriguing.

Lozano, who had previously worked for Democrats--and who was discovered to have had a checkered work history--apparently acted alone for motives that she did not explain in court.

"The thing that most concerns me is not only did you breach your duty to your employer and the political process, but you intentionally lied before a grand jury," U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks told Lozano before sentencing her.

Lozano, 31, said her life had been a "series of lost opportunities and friendships." She said she was particularly disappointed that as a convicted felon she will lose her right to vote. "Every election day will be a painful reminder. I will simply be an observer. Voting, for me, was more than a privilege, it was an honor."

Lozano's attorney did not return a call for comment.

In addition to duping the Bush campaign, which jumped to her defense last year, she fooled McKinnon, her boss and friend of a decade, who had trusted her to baby-sit his children and had gone on national television to aggressively defend her when suspicions first surfaced. McKinnon met Lozano when they worked on the Texas gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Ann Richards in 1990.

McKinnon on Friday called this chapter in the campaign and in his life "a nightmare for all of us."

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