RICHMOND, Dec. 7 -- The door to Edmund A. Matricardi's office at the Republican Party of Virginia was shut. One of the small tape recorders on his desk was running. And his speakerphone was filling the room with a politically tantalizing argument between Democratic lawmakers and the state's Democratic governor, Mark R. Warner.
Over the next three days, the 33-year-old executive director of the state party shared the fruits of his eavesdropping with some of Virginia's most powerful Republicans. "You wouldn't believe what I just did. You wouldn't believe what I just heard," he told one, according to sworn testimony he later gave in a federal lawsuit.
Anatomy of Virginia's Eavesdropping Case (The Washington Post, Apr 2, 2003)
Ex-GOP Official Indicted in Va. (The Washington Post, Jan 24, 2003)
Eavesdropping Case (The Washington Post, Jan 24, 2003)
Matricardi Indictments Withdrawn (The Washington Post, May 15, 2002)
U.S. Joins Probe Into Monitoring of Democrats' Calls (The Washington Post, May 9, 2002)
Va. GOP Plays Down Eavesdropping Probe (The Washington Post, Mar 30, 2002)
Political Snooping Alleged in Virginia (The Washington Post, Mar 29, 2002)
In fact, what Matricardi had done was a federal crime, a felony. For more than 2 1/2 hours on March 22, 2002, and again during another conference call three days later, Matricardi violated wiretapping laws.
Matricardi's political chicanery brought him down, along with the party's chairman and two top legislative aides, and ensnared the party in two years of legal disputes and political embarrassments.
The state Republican Party has agreed to pay most of a $750,000 settlement in the federal lawsuit brought by the 33 Democratic lawmakers who were on the conference calls that Matricardi recorded. And Tuesday, newly released transcripts of depositions in the case provide fresh details of how initial excitement among Republican politicians and operatives later turned to fear as they realized they'd been caught.
The conference calls that Matricardi intercepted involved Democratic lawmakers who were angry at Warner for allowing the state to appeal a court ruling striking down the Republican plan to redistrict the legislature. After recording the first call, according to depositions, Matricardi was eager to share what amounted to juicy political gossip.
He testified that he told top aides to Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) that Democrats had been mocking Kilgore. He told then-House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins and his top aide, Claudia Tucker, that some Democrats "had said some less than complimentary things about Vance," according to Tucker's testimony. Matricardi's boss, party Chairman Gary R. Thomson, testified that Matricardi told him a Democratic senator had called Warner spineless.
Matricardi, who was preparing to leave Virginia for a political job in another state, testified that he told people he was "going out with a bang."
And he would. Kilgore testified that he quickly cut off his chief aide, Anne Petera, when she began to tell him about a hypothetical crime. "At that point, I said, 'Anne, if you're going to tell me that this is happening, I need you to call the chief counsel.' . . . And the conversation ended pretty quickly."
Two days later, Kilgore's chief counsel contacted state police, setting in motion an investigation that would lead to a raid on the state party headquarters.
Matricardi was in his car, driving north on Route 1, when he got a call from Thomson. State police were at the office, Matricardi recalled in his testimony. They were investigating an illegal wiretapping, Thomson said. Matricardi testified that he quickly threw away the audio recordings and later disposed of the notes.
Tucker, who had joined Matricardi and another legislative aide, Jeff Ryer, in listening to the second Democratic conference call, sought Wilkins's counsel after learning of the investigation.
"I said, 'Look I've got to go down to the state police,' " she testified. "I've got to go tell them that I was on this thing before they start going further and find out I was on it."
"And he said, 'No. You can't do that,' " she testified. "He said, 'You call an attorney.' "