By Petula Dvorak and Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 12, 2001
FBI agents looking into the disappearance of Chandra Levy have approached and interviewed a Pentecostal minister who described an affair between his then-18-year-old daughter and Rep. Gary A. Condit, telling investigators that the congressman had warned her never to speak of the relationship.
Four law enforcement sources confirmed that the father, Otis Thomas, has been questioned by the FBI and that investigators are interested in talking to his daughter. Thomas, in an interview in which he described what his daughter told him of the affair, said that he has encouraged her to talk to the FBI but that she is afraid to do so and has gone into hiding.
Thomas said the relationship took place about seven years ago and that it ended in a tense breakup initiated by his daughter. Thomas said he decided to describe his daughter's account to FBI agent Todd M. Irinaga because he learned that the relationship was discussed by Levy and Condit in April, about two weeks before the 24-year-old intern was last seen.
Thomas's daughter, who is now in her mid-twenties, declined to discuss any aspect of the case. "I don't want to talk about any of that," she said in a brief telephone conversation this week.
Marina Ein, a spokeswoman for the Democratic congressman from California, yesterday accused The Washington Post of joining "the ranks of tabloids who have come to us with specious questions about a supposed affair."
"These questions are destructive, unfair and irrelevant," Ein said. "In fact, we are constantly placed in the impossible position of having to prove a negative. This is something we will not do."
Condit's attorney, Abbe D. Lowell, said, "This is beneath the dignity of The Washington Post."
Thomas's account of his daughter's affair with Condit has been known to the Levy family since mid-April, before Chandra disappeared. By then, the Levy family knew Chandra was having a relationship with the congressman, according to family members.
Thomas, who has parlayed his weekend groundskeeping at his Modesto, Calif., church into a weekday freelance gardening business, has done work at the Levy home for about four years. He had a conversation with Chandra's mother, Susan Levy, in April while he was tending roses in the back yard. The conversation continued by the pool, where Susan Levy brought him a cold drink. The two often talked about their children, and Thomas said he asked Susan Levy how Chandra was doing in Washington.
Susan Levy replied that Chandra was doing well and that she had befriended a congressman, Gary Condit.
"Mrs. Levy asked me if I know Gary Condit and asked me what I think about him," Thomas said. "She said she was asking about him because her daughter was friends with him in Washington."
Thomas said his daughter had asked him for advice about seven years ago, when she wanted to break off a bad relationship. He said he had been shocked when she told him the man she was seeing was Condit, whom she said she met at a political rally in the Modesto area, where she resided at the time.
"Lord have mercy, I told her she has to be around men her own age," Thomas said.
He said he advised her to end the liaison immediately. She did so, and the father and daughter never spoke of it again, he said. "I didn't really think much about it since then, until Mrs. Levy asked me about him," Thomas said.
At the Levy house that day, Thomas said he and Susan Levy talked about Condit, gingerly at first. "Then Mrs. Levy asked me if I've ever heard anything about him and other women," Thomas said. The two eventually confessed to each other that both their daughters had had relationships with Condit. "I told Mrs. Levy that with my daughter, it ended badly, that I think her daughter should end the relationship with him right away," Thomas said.
He remembers that Susan Levy then got on the phone and called Chandra in Washington. He said he heard the mother argue with her daughter. "Mrs. Levy talked to Chandra about it, but Chandra told her mother to mind her own business, that she was a grown woman who could deal with it," Thomas said.
Susan Levy confirmed that she had the conversation with Thomas and said she had sparred with her daughter about the relationship with Condit over the phone. In mid-April, when the Levys were in the Washington area to celebrate their daughter's birthday, Chandra Levy told her mother that she had talked to Condit about the affair described by Thomas and that the congressman had "explained it all" to her, Susan Levy said.
About two weeks later, on April 30, Chandra Levy canceled the membership at her Washington health club. She has not been seen since.
In May, when Thomas and his daughter saw news accounts of Levy's disappearance, he said his daughter became upset. She told him that Condit had warned her after the breakup not to tell anyone about the relationship, Thomas said.
After Chandra disappeared, Susan Levy said, she asked Thomas specific questions about the relationship between Condit and his daughter, which he answered. The Levys notified the FBI, which then approached Thomas.
The Washington Post first contacted Thomas in mid-May, when a Levy relative described what he knew. Since then, the Levys have hired attorney Billy Martin and the Washington public relations firm Porter Novelli. The Post has interviewed Thomas on many occasions, but only this week did he agree to go on the record with his story.
He made the decision after several news organizations learned about his role in the Levy investigation. On Monday, camera crews and print reporters approached Thomas, who declined to be interviewed.
Thomas, 54, said he is revealing what he told the FBI because of media pressure and because of his desire to help find Chandra Levy.
"I'm just trying to do the right thing for the Levys, and I wanted to answer all the questions the FBI had," Thomas said. "I don't want to drag my family into this. But I want to tell the truth about everything I know."
Staff writers Sari Horwitz and Sue Schmidt, research editor Margot Williams and staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report. Dvorak reported from Modesto.