Agents regret discovery of bug during election

Thursday, October 23, 2003

PHILADELPHIA -- Acknowledging for the first time that the FBI hid listening devices in the mayor's office, the bureau's top agent in Philadelphia expressed regret Wednesday that the discovery has created turmoil weeks before a mayoral election.

Speaking at an unscheduled news conference, Special Agent Jeffrey Lampinski offered an apology, but declined to discuss details of the federal investigation.

"No one regrets more so than the investigators on this case that this device was uncovered in the midst of an election," Lampinski said.

An FBI bug was found on Oct. 7 in the office of incumbent Democrat John Street during a routine security sweep. Since then, agents have subpoenaed records from city agencies, searched the offices of at least two of the mayor's political allies and confiscated three of Street's computers.

The raids have prompted accusations by Democrats that the probe was launched by the Justice Department to disrupt Street's re-election campaign against Republican businessman Sam Katz.

Lampinski denied those charges Wednesday, saying the timing was dictated by "the facts in the case," and was not of the bureau's choosing.

Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan continued to deflect questions about the probe, refusing to say what agents were investigating or whether Street was a suspect.

"We're following conduct, and where that conduct goes, we will go," Meehan said, adding that the inquiry dates back several months and will continue after the Nov. 4 election.

Street campaign spokesman Dan Fee said he was dissatisfied with the FBI and U.S. Attorney's comments Wednesday.

Since the bugging, Street has tried to reassure voters that he has done nothing wrong.

"You cannot just continue to have vague statements with broad implications hang out there," Fee said.

Federal prosecutors and FBI managers were gathered in the city for a conference. Attorney General John Ashcroft was among attendees at meetings Wednesday.

Three Democratic congressmen who have been critical of the investigation -- Robert Brady, Chaka Fattah and Joseph Hoeffel -- said they tried to arrange a meeting with Ashcroft to discuss the investigation but were rebuffed.

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