A Watergate Mystery in Its Own Right
By Mike Allen
A secretive former D.C. police officer who says he "inadvertently" trotted off with the department's original report of the Watergate break-in is trying to cash in on the incident's 25th anniversary by anonymously selling it at auction.
Bidding begins at $25,000.
But "Deep Cop" may be in deep trouble. Several D.C. officials said yesterday that the report belongs to the District and that they want to stop the auction, which is scheduled for Sunday.
"This individual might be able to be prosecuted," said D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large). "You can't have police officers walking away with various reports and then selling them for their own benefit. That's ridiculous."
Last month, an auction gallery in Hampton, Va., drew disappointing bids when it offered a four-pound brass lock the Watergate burglars taped open during the 1972 break-in.
The top bid on the lock was $13,000, which was rejected by the owner. Several days later, he accepted an offer of more than $20,000, said Gail F. Wolpin, owner of Phoebus Auction Gallery.
Some collectors said the report, being offered by the same gallery, might prove a lot more tantalizing. Jim Warlick, owner of Political Americana, a chain of three memorabilia stores in Washington, nearly jumped through his cell phone as he was setting up for a "break-in party" the Watergate Hotel held yesterday to commemorate the anniversary of the crime that led to President Richard M. Nixon's resignation.
"That's the document that started it all!" Warlick said. "When's the auction?"
Wolpin said the former officer phoned after hearing about the lock sale and said he had something "even more valuable." She said the man, who has moved south of Washington since leaving the D.C. police force, refuses to be identified.
"We call him `the man in the shadows,' " Wolpin said. "He was kind of nervous about having it. He wasn't sure if he'd get in trouble."
Well, he apparently has a point.
"He knows it's not his," said D.C. police Lt. Melanye Smith, deputy director of the department's records division. "We don't give away original reports."
Five men were arrested early on the morning of June 17, 1972, and charged with burglary in what would become known as a plot to bug the Democratic National Committee's headquarters on the sixth floor of the Watergate complex.
Report No. 316-823, filed at 4:45 a.m. that day, records the political crime of the century in deadpan cop-ese:
"Complainant's Name: Democratic National Convention [sic] . . . Describe Location or Type of Premise: office building . . . Crime: Burglary II . . . Weapon, Tool, Force Or Means Used: lockpicking tools, screwdrivers, tape . . . Method Used: taped door locks open . . . Type of Property Taken: none . . . Loss Value: unk. . . . Point of Entry: stairway."
Police officials said that snatching an original incident report would be taking property without a right, a criminal offense.
In an unsigned statement the officer gave the auction house -- he told the auctioneers he'd sign it after the report was sold -- he said that on that June morning 25 years ago he was waiting in line at the D.C. corporation counsel's office to file a report on an incident unrelated to the Watergate burglary.
The officer said he was in line behind Officer William Casey, who filed the Watergate report.
"I must conclude that I inadvertently picked up the report . . . and included it among my own papers, which I took home and filed away," the officer said in the statement.
The gallery said it is selling the top and bottom copies of a three-part carbon form. The officer said the middle part already had been pulled out.
"I remember finding the document in my files while cleaning out a closet at home" a few years later, the officer said in the statement. "All attempts to return the document failed and I was forced to decide whether to throw it away, give it away, or keep it for posterity. I kept it, having no other trustworthy entity within reach."
At the D.C. police department's Internal Affairs Division yesterday, Sgt. Phillip Mullens scoffed at the idea that the officer would have difficulty returning the report. "Just bring it to any police station," he said.
Wolpin, the auctioneer, said she doesn't know what efforts the officer made to return the report, and she was unruffled by the flak from D.C. officials. "They can come bid -- it's a public auction," she said.
Smith, the records official, said the original should be in a warehouse in Suitland but would take three or four days to retrieve if it was there.
Cost of a copy: $2.
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