Edmund A. Matricardi III pleaded guilty today to a felony charge of eavesdropping on Democrats last spring while he was the senior staffer at the Virginia Republican Party, federal prosecutors announced. Under a plea agreement, Matricardi would pay a $10,000 fine and avoid prison.

In announcing Matricardi's plea at a Richmond news conference, U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty said his prosecutorial staff and investigators from the FBI and Virginia State Police had largely wrapped up the year-long case that transfixed Democrats and the state Republican Party, which Matricardi served as executive director until April 2002, when he was initially indicted on eavesdropping charges.

McNulty said his team was prepared "to bring this matter to some completion" and was not planning a "longer and protracted" investigation.

"We hope that the citizens of Virginia clearly understand that federal laws that seek to protect the integrity of the use of telephones and conference calls in particular are federal laws that we're prepared to enforce," said McNulty, who as part of the plea agreement will recommend that Matricardi serve no time in prison.

Matricardi declined to comment on his plea, which he entered during a brief hearing before U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer. Spencer scheduled sentencing for July 8, four days after Matricardi's 35th birthday. Legal experts said Spencer will likely accept McNulty's recommendation of no imprisonment.

Matricardi's attorney, Steven D. Benjamin, said Matricardi pleaded guilty to avoid prison and to continue providing for his wife and two daughters, ages 5 months and 7.

"Had Ed gone to trial and been convicted, the minimum sentence he could have received could have been 18 months or more," Benjamin said. "As Ed saw it, he had no choice."

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Matricardi could have faced a maximum five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the offense of intercepting a wire communication. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Matricardi would pay a $10,000 fine, serve three years' probation and cooperate with federal authorities in any inquiry they pursue.

As part of the plea agreement, Matricardi acknowledged that after securing the confidential telephone number and access code of a Democratic conference call in late March 2002, he listened in for more than two hours while Gov. Mark R. Warner and fellow Democrats plotted legal strategy in an important redistricting case.

Warner said Matricardi's plea agreement "sends a strong and clear message that dirty politics will not be tolerated in Virginia."

"I hope other party activists learn that no political point is ever worth being scored at the cost of breaking the law," Warner said in a statement. "Actions like this, if tolerated, only further erode public confidence in elected officials."

Del. Brian J. Moran of Alexandria, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, said the plea agreement was a vindication of the many complaints that his party lodged last year against the Virginia GOP, which has been consolidating its statewide political and legislative power.

"His many Republican bosses said at the time that this was 'business as usual,' but this is confirmation that in no way was it business as usual," Moran said. "This was criminal, and not to be condoned."

Virginia Republican Party spokesman Shawn M. Smith said: "Our thoughts and prayers remain with Ed and his family. Hopefully, the announcement today from the U.S. attorney's office brings this legal matter to an end."

Matricardi, who cut his teeth on Republican Party activism as a youngster growing up in Fairfax County in the mid-1970s, was the most visible but not the only figure to be caught up in the eavesdropping scandal that shattered what little bipartisan cooperation existed in Richmond.

This year, the woman who served as chief of staff to then-House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr. (R-Amherst) pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in the case, while a Democratic Party activist who helped convey the phone number and access code to Matricardi pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors. Both were fined $1,000 and sentenced to a year's probation for each crime.

Edmund A. Matricardi III was executive director of the Virginia Republican Party.