Mayor Walter E. Washington put Joseph P. Yeldell, his general assistant and close political confident, on administrative leaves yesterday following Yeldell's indictment on conspiracy and bribery charges.
The mayor, looking drawn and weary, handled a brief statement to assembled reporters shortly after 8 p.m. in the District Building.
Just minutes before, Yeldell emerged from his own suite of offices in the National Yheater building just across Pennsylvania Avenue and told reporters that he was asking for administrative leave to fight what he called "the groundless charges."
The mayor, informed by reporters at his press conference that Yeldell was asking for admistrative leave, said that he was aware of that.
"It was at my initiative," said the major, "but he also requested it."
Yeldell will continue to fraw his annual salary of $47,500 during the leave, the major said in response to questions. "It's the only way he can take it," Washington said.
In this statement, delivered to reporters in a subdued and controlled voice, Yeldell declared, "I have never taken and will never take a bribe. Ihave never and will never conspire with anyone."
He added that he will "devote whatever energies I can muster to ensure that the truth does in fact prevail. I intended to de precisely that."
Antonelli was not available for comment, as has been custom concerning the press. His attorney "are Kleiboemer, said the charges "are not warranted. . . Mr. Antonelli is innocent."
Other response to the indictment was coutions in Washington's official comminity, particulary concerning any possible political impact.
Yeldell has a long and close political association with Mayor Washington, and the indictment comes as the mayor has been moving toward a decision this year. Political observers were agreed that Yeldell would have been given a pivotal role in any Washington campaign.
The two men likely to be the mayor's principal oppositioun-Council Chairman Sterling Tucker and Council member Marion Barry-were muted in their reactions yesterday and did not link the indictment to the political race.
The most characteristic reaction among members of the City Council was that the indictments should not be considered to be conclusive of guilt.
The mayor was attending a funeral when the indictments were returned. When he got back to the District Building, he immediately closeted himself in his office with some of his principal aides - among them city administrator Julian Dugas, Press Secretary Sam Eastman, planning director Ben Gilbert, Corporation Counsel John R. Risher and the latter's deputy, Louise Robbins.The conference, convened into the evening hours before the mayor emerged with his brief statement.
A letter from the mayor notifying Yeldell that he was being put on administrative leave was hand-carried across Pennsylvania Avenue from the mayor-s office in the District Building to Yeldell's office by Eastman.
At 8.30 p.m., Eastman walked into Yeldell's office, closing the door behind him. He left Yeldell's office about five minutes later.
Earlier, according to Eastman, an aide to the mayor had read theletter to Yeldell over the telephone.