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FBI Put Bug in Philadelphia Mayor's Office

The agency won't say why, but its action has created turmoil in a tight election race.

October 09, 2003|Josh Getlin | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — A sophisticated listening device discovered this week in Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street's office was planted by FBI agents, federal law enforcement officials confirmed Wednesday. But they refused to comment on whether the mayor is the target of an investigation, and said the bug had nothing to do with the city's hotly contested mayoral race.

The confirmation by three federal officials threw the city's election into turmoil. Campaign officials for Street, a Democrat, suggested the U.S. Justice Department may have planted the listening device for partisan political purposes. The Nov. 4 election pits the mayor against Republican businessman Sam Katz in a replay of their tight 1999 contest.

"I haven't done anything wrong and I don't know that anybody in my Cabinet or in my staff around me has done anything wrong," Street said during an afternoon meeting with reporters. "Obviously this is a matter of great concern to me."

The bug, which contained multiple microphones, was discovered Tuesday during a routine security sweep of Street's offices. The device, planted in the ceiling, did not have a recording device but was capable of broadcasting to buildings or parked vans in the immediate vicinity, police officials said.

U.S. Atty. Patrick Meehan, who represents the eastern district of Pennsylvania, on Wednesday declined to provide any details about the bug or whether any investigation of Street is underway. But he repeated earlier denials that the listening device was planted to influence the mayoral election in Philadelphia, a city of 1.5 million people.

"The U.S. attorney's office in the eastern district ... has a long and proud history of doing its work without regard to partisan politics," Meehan said in a statement. "That was the practice of my predecessors and it is my practice as well."

Frank Keel, Street's campaign spokesman, was skeptical. "The timing of the discovery of these listening devices seems incredibly strange, seeing that we are four weeks out of the election and we have a Democratic mayor ahead in the polls and we are on the eve of the first debate," he told reporters.

Maureen Garrity, a Katz spokeswoman, said the Republican candidate's campaign had nothing to do with the listening device.

Street defeated Katz by fewer than 10,000 votes four years ago, and the current election has been marked by bitter charges that each side has injected race into the campaign. Street is black and Katz is white. The two, who have accused each other of dishonesty and irresponsible campaigning, will debate three times before the vote.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and other state politicians on Wednesday called on the FBI to provide more details about the listening device.

"The mayor says he has been told through sources that he's not the target of an investigation," Rendell told reporters. "If that's true, then [FBI officials] owe an explanation to the people of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania."

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