Former congressional page Leroy Williams, whose allegations that he had homosexual liaisons with three members of Congress helped touch off a national uproar and a congressional inquiry, yesterday confessed that he made the whole story up.
Williams, 18, told a crowded news conference in his home town of Little Rock that he concocted the tale to draw attention to what he considered were abuses in the congressional page system.
"For the past few months I have made some very serious accusations," he said. "These allegations are not true. I have lied. I regret that I have lied."
Williams, who was arrested at a movie theater in Little Rock about a week ago and charged with public intoxication, is scheduled to give a deposition in Washington today to Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio), chairman of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, and Joseph A. Califano Jr., who is serving as special counsel in charge of the panel's investigation into alleged sexual misconduct and illegal drug use among members of Congress.
Neither would comment on Williams' revelation.
The Justice Department, which also has been pursuing allegations of sexual misconduct and drug abuse on Capitol Hill, also declined comment.
However, a department source reiterated yesterday--as The Washington Post reported last week--that its sexual-misconduct probe was about to be ended for lack of corroboration.
The House inquiry is expected to continue, as is the Justice Department investigation into alleged drug abuse, which was under way before Williams made his accusations.
When Williams and others made the allegations in July, the story created a national sensation. In the weeks that followed he failed an FBI lie-detector test and publicly admitted in a Post interview that he had exaggerated parts of his story.
But until yesterday he had stood by the basics of his charge: that he had had sex with three members of Congress, arranged a liaison between a senator and a male prostitute and a congressional aide and a male prostitute, and knew of other sexual encounters been pages and congressmen.
Yesterday, the day after being interviewed in Little Rock by House ethics panel investigators, Williams repudiated his story. He said he personally had no such encounters and was not aware of any other illicit sexual encounters between congressmen and pages. He only knew of "rumors" of such affairs, he said.
He said he had hoped his tale would reveal problems in the page system, including lack of supervision, intense pressure and long hours of school and work in Congress.
One of seven children from a North Little Rock family, Williams started as a page in June, 1981, after being appointed by Rep. Ed Bethune (R-Ark.). By September he was elevated to one of two Republican page supervisory positions.
But four months later he abruptly resigned.
Williams said yesterday he left because he was becoming an alcoholic. "I could drink all I wanted to," he said. "As a result, I almost became an alcoholic."
He said he used several illegal drugs during his seven months as a page, including cocaine, marijuana and a concentrated caffeine tablet. He also said he had had homosexual relations.
He said he was not persuaded to recant his story by the House investigators who interviewed him Thursday, but rather by his arrest for public intoxication.
The arrest came after patrons attending "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" complained that a man was spitting in their hair. Williams said yesterday he was drunk that night and wanted to kill himself. The pressure of having told so many lies was "eating me up," he said.
He said he was relieved to reveal the truth and hoped for a "happier" life.
His attorney, Bob Scott of Little Rock, who accompanied him to the news conference, said Williams understood that he might face criminal charges because of his lies, and also that his admission of homosexual acts may disqualify him from the Army, which Williams hopes to join.
He added that on his advice, Williams had been receiving psychiatric care.
Williams said he first made his charges of sexual misconduct in an anonymous interview with CBS News earlier this summer. He lost control of the story, he said, when other reporters deduced that he was the page who had talked to CBS. His tale assumed a life of its own, he said, and he could not keep up with it.
At least two other former pages also have alleged sexual misconduct by a member of Congress, but a Justice Department official said there is no evidence to corroborate their charges.
Whatever the outcome of the probes, Williams' allegations and the furor they caused have already produced a call for reforms in the page system.
Last week a special House commission recommended that the minimum age for pages be raised from 14 to 16, that pages be housed in a dormitory rather than allowed to live where they please, and that they be subject to a code of conduct.
Rep. William V. (Bill) Alexander Jr. (D-Ark.), who headed the commission, said the 100 pages who run errands for members of the House and the Senate had gotten a "bum rap" and were "hard-working, loyal, patriotic, God-fearing citizens."
The major bit of unfinished business for investigators for the House ethics panel and the Justice Department is a drug probe that stems from months of undercover work around Capitol Hill by Drug Enforcement Administration agents and the District of Columbia police.