By Petula Dvorak and Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 22, 2001
For seven weeks, Chandra Levy's parents have tried Jewish prayers, Baptist hymns and meditation to maintain hope that their missing daughter is alive and has not met with foul play.
But yesterday, tired of waiting for news from Washington and fearing the worst, they harnessed the power of a high-profile D.C. lawyer and a hired team of veteran homicide investigators to try to find their daughter -- or to learn what happened to her.
They also had a face-to-face meeting with a man they believe knew their daughter well during her time in Washington -- Rep. Gary A. Condit (D-Calif).
Susan and Robert Levy, along with their new attorney, Billy Martin, asked D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey to upgrade the missing persons investigation to a criminal matter, hoping that would lead investigators to pursue the case with more vigor.
Susan Levy stepped out of police headquarters yesterday afternoon and called the 20-minute meeting with Ramsey "productive," even though the chief told them that the disappearance of their 24-year-old daughter, a recent federal intern, is still a missing persons case.
The disappearance will be investigated in the same way regardless of how it is classified, Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said.
"They are working very hard on this case, and we appreciate the cooperation of the police," said Susan Levy, who slowly read the 800-860-6552 hot line number that Martin's firm has set up for tips on Chandra Levy's whereabouts.
Meanwhile, the Levys put their plans to return to Modesto, Calif., on hold yesterday after Martin said an aide to Condit called the lawyer's office. It was not clear why the aide had called, but the Levys had said that they would like to meet with the congressman.
Mike Dayton, chief of staff in Condit's Washington office, said last night that the Levys and Condit had met somewhere in the District for a "private conversation" yesterday evening. Dayton could give no details about where the meeting took place or at whose urging and could not say whether lawyers were present
"They talked," Dayton said.
Condit, who represents the Levys' home town, has called Chandra Levy a good friend. His aides have denied a romantic relationship between the two, but the Levys have said they believe their daughter was having an affair with him.
Police also want to talk to Condit. They interviewed him at his Adams Morgan apartment about six weeks ago and requested a follow-up meeting -- which they call a routine procedure -- about 10 days ago.
Police had hoped to interview him again Wednesday. When that didn't work out, they tried for yesterday, without success. Police said they hoped to reschedule the meeting for today.
Martin said yesterday that a team of investigators made up of a lawyer and two former D.C. homicide detectives will conduct their own probe into Levy's disappearance, and that he will share any information with D.C. police.
"We hope that during the investigation, we can really find out the depth of that relationship, what it was," Martin said.
The Levys and D.C. police have been careful not to suggest that any relationship between Condit and their daughter has anything to do with her disappearance. But mention of the congressman has helped the case gain international media attention and has made it more sensitive, legal observers said.
"Realistically this would not be news if [a congressman] were not involved in it," said W. Louis Hennessy, a lawyer who was head of the D.C. police homicide squad from 1993 to 1995. "Unfortunately, his reputation is being tarnished and he may not have a doggone thing to do with anything. He's being dragged into it whether he likes it or not."
Hennessy said that even though police pledge to treat all cases equally, he thinks Condit may be treated differently by investigators.
"I'm sure there's a political consideration. With a potentially innocent person damaged to the degree he has [been], you have to handle it a little differently than a typical [person]," he said. "They owe it to him to handle it professionally and objectively and delicately."
Police, however, said they are handling the Levy investigation as they would any other missing persons case.
"It's not more sensitive, not in the eyes of the police, because we treat everyone equally," said Sgt. Joe Gentile, a D.C. police spokesman.
Whether the investigation is classified as a missing persons case or as a criminal matter may make little difference, said David Schertler, a criminal defense lawyer who was head of the homicide section of the U.S. attorney's office from 1992 to 1996.
"At this point, for all practical purposes, it's being investigated very likely as a crime," Schertler said. "In everybody's mind, it's more likely some foul play was involved, and that's how it's being investigated. They're doing the same kind of investigative work they would do as a crime."
Police have sought help from a grand jury, asking a sitting panel to subpoena records related to Levy's disappearance. Police say that under D.C. law, phone records and client information from Internet service providers and banks can be obtained only through a grand jury subpoena.
"The grand jury has tremendous power the police do not have," said Schertler, who is not involved in the case. Grand juries are used "on a regular basis in missing persons cases," Schertler said. "The only difference between a missing persons case and a case involving a crime is in the missing persons case, you do not know if foul play is involved beyond any doubt.
"There's always a possibility that a crime did not occur."