GOP Denies Portraying Shoe Salesman as Rebel from Nicaraguan Jungle
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republican officials denied Friday that they intended to mislead Illinois voters into thinking that a Washington shoe store manager was a freedom fighter fresh from the jungles of Central America.
That sentiment was echoed by the person in question, Leonel Teller, who comented in an interview: ″My goodness, if I would have known all this was going to happen, I would have stayed in Washington.″
He was referring to the controversy stemming from his appearance at a news conference on April 4 in Southern Illinois on behalf of Republican Randy Patchett. Patchett was declaring his candidacy for a rematch against Democratic Rep. Kenneth Gray and blasting Gray for opposing American aid to the anti-Sandinista Contra forces in Nicaragua.
Gray and Democratic officials have subsequently accused Patchett and the Republican Party of trying to pass off Teller as a gun-toting combatant when, in fact, he sells athletic shoes in the fashionable Georgetown area of Washington and hasn’t been to Nicaragua since 1981.
According to Teller and the Republicans, the Democrats aren’t telling the whole story either.
Teller, 25, described himself to a reporter as an assistant to Eden Pastora, leader of the anti-Sandinista rebels. He said he lobbies American officials on behalf of the contra movement and acts as its spokesman.
He said because he receives no salary, he works at the shoe store to support himself and his wife.
And he said that while he has not been in Nicaragua since 1981, he fought against the regime of former Nicaraguan leader Anastasio Somoza as a youth and was jailed because of it.
Patchett said Friday that he might be partly to blame for any misunderstandin g about Teller’s background. In a telephone interview, Patchett said he ″was under the impression″ that Teller travels between Nicaragua and the United States.
″He’s not a fraud,″ Patchett said, adding, ″Nobody ever hid anything from anybody.″
Teller said Illinois journalists apparently misinterpreted his remarks conference comparing life in the United States to that of strife-torn Nicaragua.
According to local newspaper reports, Teller said that in Nicaragua, he ″wears camouflage clothes and a machine gun and that’s the way I talk - with a machine gun.″
Teller contended he said, ″In Nicaragua, we wear fatigue clothes and a machine gun and that’s the language we speak because we do not have any other choice.″
Barbara Pardue, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the committee recommended Teller to Patchett after Patchett said he was looking for a Contra spokesman.
″Was he sent out there and did we represent him as somebody who had last week been in the jungles? No, we did not,″ Ms. Pardue said.
Meanwhile, Teller has complained that Gray’s office is harassing him. He said he was questioned by federal agents about his status as a foreign lobbyist, his immigration status and about whether he had threatened the congressman.
Patrick McCaffrey, Gray’s press secretary, said Gray had asked the Justice Department to see whether Teller was legally registered as a lobbyist. McCaffrey said he was unaware of any complaint being made about threats from Teller.