RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- The former executive director of the Virginia Republican Party pleaded guilty Tuesday to a felony charge of eavesdropping on a Democratic Party conference call, the U.S. attorney's office said.
Prosecutors will recommend Edmund Matricardi III serve three years' probation and pay a $10,000 fine. He is also expected to cooperate with investigators under the agreement, in which he pleaded guilty to one count of felony wire intercept.
"This recommendation permits Mr. Matricardi to provide for his wife and two little girls and further continue his appeal that his conduct did not amount to wiretapping," said Steven Benjamin, his attorney.
Benjamin said his client never denied that he listened to an interstate conference call on March 22, 2002, during which Democratic legislators, party leaders and their lawyers discussed strategy in a court battle over legislative redistricting.
Matricardi, 34, executive director of the state GOP from 1999 until April 2002, also admitted he used an access code given to him by a former Democratic Party staffer to join in on the call. Prosecutors said he also recorded the conversation.
Matricardi had been charged with two counts of unlawful interception of a wire communication, two counts of unlawfully disclosing it and one count of aiding and abetting. Each count carried a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
He pleaded innocent Feb. 12, saying the conference call qualified as an open meeting under Virginia laws. He can continue to use that argument in appellate courts as he pursues a motion to dismiss the charge to which he pleaded guilty.
Paul McNulty, the U.S. attorney for eastern Virginia, said the prosecution of Matricardi made a statement about protecting confidentiality, not about political espionage.
"We are, as a society, increasingly transacting our business by telephone and telephone conferences, and the usefulness of this technology ... is dependent on its security," McNulty said.
Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat who participated in the conversation Matricardi listened to, said he hopes the plea discourages similar behavior.
"The U.S. prosecutor accepting this guilty plea sends a strong and clear message that dirty politics will not be tolerated in Virginia," the governor said in a one-paragraph statement distributed by his office.
After Matricardi is sentenced on July 8, he will relinquish a number of civil liberties, including the right to hold elected office and the right to vote, McNulty said.
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