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Va. Dem Admits Aiding GOP Eavesdropper

March 1, 2003

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ A former Democratic legislative aide admitted to distributing a phone number and access code for private Democratic conference calls that top state Republican officials allegedly listened in on last year.

In a plea agreement entered Friday, Joseph Willis Lee III, former aide and campaign manager for Del. Fenton L. Bland Jr. of Petersburg, pleaded guilty to distributing the information about the calls in exchange for a reduced sentence of two years’ probation and a $2,000 fine.

Former Virginia Republican Party head Edmund A. Matricardi III faces federal felony charges of eavesdropping on two Democratic strategy sessions and taping one of them. Claudia Tucker, chief of staff to former House speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for listening in on one of the calls.

According to the deal reached with the U.S. Attorney’s office, Lee said he passed the information to another former Democratic activist who had close ties to officials in the Virginia Republican Party.

The woman, whose name was not released, had ``instructions that she send the telephone number and access code to her high-ranking friends,″ the agreement said.

The two charges against Lee each carried a maximum six-month prison sentence, a year of supervised release and a $5,000 fine. Lee agreed Friday to testify before a grand jury and provide notes and other documents in the case against Matricardi.

Matricardi, 34, pleaded not guilty Feb. 12, claiming the conference calls qualified as ``open meetings″ under Virginia laws. His trial is set to begin April 9.

Matricardi was forced to resign after the eavesdropping allegations surfaced last spring. He took a job with the South Carolina Republican Party, but resigned from that position in January after he was indicted by the federal grand jury.

Matricardi’s attorney declined to comment.

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