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Prosecutor Accused in Tate Case

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By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 1, 2007

A former newspaper reporter in Loudoun County is accusing Commonwealth's Attorney James E. Plowman of leaking him damaging information about a former state Senate candidate charged with election fraud -- fraud charges initiated by Plowman's office.

Charles Jackson, who left the weekly Leesburg Today last month, says in a sworn affidavit that Plowman told him that the former candidate, Mark D. Tate, was "absolutely a criminal" two months before Tate was indicted. The prosecutor accused Tate of writing campaign checks to himself, disclosed details about Tate's personal financial problems and encouraged Jackson to write a negative article about him, Jackson's affidavit says.

The affidavit was filed Thursday in Loudoun Circuit Court by Tate's attorney, who is asking a judge to throw out the case and issue a subpoena for Plowman to testify about his contacts with reporters and Tate's political opponents. The attorney, Edward B. MacMahon Jr., said Plowman leaked information to hurt Tate's election prospects and help Tate's opponent, Jill Holtzman Vogel. Plowman (R) is a supporter of Vogel's, who defeated Tate in the June 12 Republican primary.

"No prosecution can continue under these circumstances when the evidence shows that the investigation of the case was initiated for political reasons," MacMahon wrote in a motion accompanying Jackson's affidavit. He accused Plowman of violating a judge's order and his "ethical obligations" as an officer of the court.

Plowman did not return phone calls requesting comment on the affidavit. The case is being overseen by a special prosecutor, Matthew J. Britton, who also did not return calls. Vogel, who will face Democrat Karen Schultz and independent Donald Marro in the 27th Senate District election this fall to replace retiring state Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. (R-Winchester), also didn't return calls. The district includes part of Loudoun.

Tate, a restaurateur and former Middleburg Town Council member, was indicted May 21 on two counts of election fraud and nine counts of perjury on charges that he filed false financial reports during his 2003 and 2007 Senate campaigns.

MacMahon has made several attempts to show that Tate's indictment, announced three weeks before the Republican primary, was politically motivated. Plowman began the formal investigation of Tate but recused himself in April and handed the case over to Britton.

Reporters traditionally do not disclose conversations with sources, and the efforts of journalists to shield newsgathering activities from the courts has resulted in high-profile legal battles in recent years.

In an interview yesterday, Jackson, 26, said he "wrestled a little" with the decision to file the affidavit but decided "it was just the right moral thing to do. I protected my source while I was at the paper."

The affidavit, first reported by the Northern Virginia Daily Regional News in Strasburg, said MacMahon first approached Jackson last month seeking information about the investigation of Tate when he was still working for Leesburg Today. The document says that Jackson received a call from Plowman on March 26 and that Plowman brought up Tate and the investigation.

Insisting that the conversation be off the record, Plowman said that he had obtained Tate's bank records and that "Tate was exaggerating his expendable funds on hand, that campaign checks were going into his personal accounts and that Tate was writing campaign checks to himself," the affidavit says.

The prosecutor said that Tate owed the town of Middleburg $14,000 in back taxes and that his house in Middleburg had been foreclosed, the affidavit says. It says Plowman said he would "love to do this case" but had to recuse himself because he had backed Vogel.

Plowman also said, according to the affidavit, that Tate would probably be charged "before the election."

In a subsequent conversation with Jackson May 3, Plowman suggested that Jackson write a story about Tate's tax situation. "Mr. Plowman continued to push the story," Jackson wrote. "I suggested that he was pushing a political story. Mr. Plowman denied that he was pushing a political story."

Tate declined to comment yesterday through his attorney. His trial is scheduled for late November. A hearing on MacMahon's motion is scheduled for Sept. 21.

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