When Scott Ourth was recruited to be Maryland Rep. Roy P. Dyson's press secretary in December 1986, he was told by Dyson's top aide, Tom Pappas, that the job came with this requirement: Ourth was not allowed to date for a year and had to devote all his time to the office.
"Pappas had to have your individual loyalty," Ourth recalled.
Ourth's account is not unique. Staff aide Sebastian Corradino said he quit because of constant demands that he attend social events with Pappas and other members of the staff, invitations for drinks and dinner that virtually became job requirements. Andy Hira, a special assistant to Pappas, was fired for refusing to stay at a party in Dyson's Annapolis hotel suite last November, and fellow staff member James Fox quit on the spot because of similar demands, Hira said.
Staff members said they were shocked when Pappas told one male staff member that he would have to perform a strip tease at a 1987 office retreat at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia. The aide refused. Some said the incident was representative of a troubling pattern of conduct that has gone on in Dyson's office, including Pappas' request that one staff member Anglicize his first name and Pappas' requirement that male aides pay out of their own pockets to rent tuxedos for a campaign event.
These aides were among those in a long line of young men, often seeking their first job on Capitol Hill, who were recruited in sometimes unorthodox ways to work for Dyson, a conservative four-term Democrat from Maryland's 1st Congressional District. In a series of interviews, former staff members have criticized Pappas, Dyson's longtime friend and political mentor, and the way Dyson has ceded control of his Washington office to Pappas.
Those interviewed said they did not believe that the pressure to socialize with Pappas and others on the staff went beyond the dinners and events that Pappas organized.
"He liked having his round table, his serfs," Ourth said of Pappas. "Basically that's what we were. He was the big robber baron and we were his serfs."
Pappas indicated what kind of employee the office favored in an advertisement placed last fall in a small midwestern newspaper, an ad paid for with money from Dyson's reelection campaign, which Pappas orchestrated.
"Wanted A Young Man In A Hurry," was the headline on the ad in the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post. "Are you a young man with big ideas about the rest of your life? Are you single and willing to travel?" the ad asked.
It went on to offer a job in Washington paying between $25,000 and $50,000, and requested a writing sample and a recent photograph. Replies were to be sent to Pappenbauer Associates, a company owned by Pappas. Although it is not illegal to advertise for an applicant of a particular sex for political work, it is considered unusual. Dyson has a few women staff members in his Washington office, but former aides said the women usually were excluded from Pappas' social activities.
Dyson and Pappas declined repeated requests for interviews last week, saying through a spokesman for Dyson's campaign committee that it would be inappropriate to talk about matters relating to the congressional office pending the outcome of a Federal Election Commission review of Dyson's campaign finances.
"This office has been run in an efficient and well-structured manner," Pappas said in a statement issued by the spokesman. "The office has been managed in a way which has served the people of the 1st Congressional District of Maryland well for many years. The citizens of Maryland's 1st Congressional District have recently given the congressman a 70 percent favorable rating."
Complaints about the way the office is managed have surfaced as a result of questions about Dyson's campaign expenditures. The FEC is reviewing Dyson's campaign finances, after disclosure that his campaign reports included $6,650 in payments to other aides that Pappas in fact received.
Pappas last year was paid $72,200 as Dyson's administrative assistant, and he and Pappenbauer Associates have received $119,642 in fees and expenses since 1980, a review of Dyson's campaign reports shows. Until recent newspaper accounts of the payments, Pappas did not disclose the fees in personal financial statements required by House ethics rules.
In amended reports filed in April, Pappas reported campaign income for 1982 through 1986, but a review of Dyson campaign records by The Washington Post indicated that Pappas received $4,863 more in consulting fees in 1986 than is included on his amended report.
Irregularities in the campaign reports came to light this year when Hira read an account in the Salisbury (Md.) Times that said he and another aide had been paid $6,650 last year by the Dyson campaign committee. Hira told the FEC that he had not received any payment, and Pappas has since acknowledged that he actually had received the money.
Dyson, a member of the Armed Services and the Merchant Marines and Fisheries committees, represents a conservative, stubbornly independent district that includes the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland.
His relationship with Pappas dates back to the early 1970s, when Dyson, a member of a prominent Southern Maryland political family, worked on Capitol Hill as a legislative assistant to a House Education and Labor subcommittee. In many ways, Pappas, 46, has had a tutor-student relationship with Dyson, 39.
He helped engineer Dyson's first election to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1974 and managed his successful 1980 congressional bid to unseat Republican Rep. Robert A. Bauman, who during the campaign was arrested for soliciting sex from a 16-year-old boy. The charge was dropped after Bauman completed treatment for alcoholism. Bauman subsequently revealed that he is homosexual.
Dyson's official residence is in St. Mary's County, but he frequently stays at Pappas' large frame house in Accokeek in Prince George's County, according to a neighbor and former staff members. Dyson is single and Pappas was divorced in 1982.
First District Republicans have criticized Dyson for allowing Pappas to control his office, and last week the district Republican chairman, Mark Frazer, urged that Dyson suspend Pappas until the FEC has completed its investigation.
Pappas' own view of his status in the office was reflected in a memo he sent to the staff last November, copies of which were made available to The Post by former staff members.
" . . . Tom Pappas is a generous man. But remember . . . he is the man!!!!!" said the memo to all staff members from "Pappy." "I want to have a happy crew around here . . . but I will not be screwed with by anyone." He said Dyson and another top-ranking aide, Todd A. Skipper, "never screw around with me. They understand how kind I am and the limits of my generosity!"
The memo, dated Nov. 14, was meant as a warning to staff members that they would face the same fate as Hira, who said he had been fired two days earlier for disobeying Pappas' order to stay at a private party in Dyson's hotel suite the night Dyson announced his 1988 reelection campaign.
Staff members were required to rent tuxedos for the announcement at the Annapolis Hilton, a lavish event that cost the campaign more than $9,000. Afterward, the male members of the staff posed for a photo with Dyson and Pappas and were told to attend a private party in Dyson's suite to celebrate the congressman's upcoming birthday.
But Hira said he, Fox and others didn't want to attend the party. They changed from their tuxedos to casual clothes in a hotel room that Pappas had reserved for Fox, and told Pappas they were going drinking on their own in Annapolis. Hira said Pappas was furious.
"He said, 'You're not going anywhere. The party's here,' " Hira said.
Pappas tried to block their exit and later grabbed Fox's arm, Hira and others said, and the incident culminated with Fox telling Pappas that he was quitting.
Hira and another person present said that Dyson was talking to an elderly friend of his mother's while the confrontation was going on, and was easily within earshot.
Hira said Pappas called him from Annapolis the next day. "He said, 'This is your last day. Pack up your things,' " recalled Hira, a 22-year-old graduate of Georgetown University.
Others employed by Dyson at the time said the incident was the reason for the Pappas memo. It put into writing, they said, the rules and regulations that Pappas often had told them he enforced.
"After all is said and done around here, it is important for everyone on this staff to remember that Tom Pappas is the chief of staff, responsible for everyone's paycheck," the memo stated. "When he expresses a wish, however slight, it should be taken seriously."
The memo went on to state that "if you are nice to him, he will put a great deal of bread in your pocket," but it also warned, "Don't mess with me."
" . . . When I ask you to do something, or if you even suspect that I have a wish about something, I would suggest that you make damn sure that you know what I want done," the memo said.
Many of those hired for Dyson's staff said they answered an ad in the newsletter of the Democratic Study Group, a research arm of House Democrats. Some said they then received letters from Pappenbauer Associates asking for a recent photograph and a list of their free-time activities and hobbies. The ad placed in the Missouri newspaper is the only one listed on Dyson's campaign expenditure reports.
Those who were hired often found they had to devote their off hours to keeping up with Pappas' social demands, former aides said, which meant frequent dinners, sports events and shows, and long hours drinking. Most new recruits were hired only for 90 days, and Pappas often reminded them of that if they balked, according to former aides.
One former employee recalled Pappas calling him in one day and saying, "You're mine Wednesday," in ordering him to attend a dinner and show with him. "He tries to encourage his staff to go out with him every night," said the aide, who spoke on condition he remain anonymous. "It was pretty much your job to go out with him."
Several of the former aides whose first jobs were with Dyson said that at first they were unaware that the demands were unusual.
Capitol Hill staff members are well aware they are not protected by most fair employment and civil rights laws and serve at the pleasure of their bosses. But those who quit Dyson's office said the requirements placed upon them seemed improper.
Valcoulon Ellicott, another former press secretary, said Pappas tried to fire him after he disobeyed Pappas' orders by attending a weekend softball game with former newspaper colleagues on the Eastern Shore.
Dyson immediately reinstated him, Ellicott said. But Ellicott added that the congressman rarely intervened in Pappas' handling of office affairs.
Pappas "held an amazing amount of power," said Ellicott, who left the job after two years in 1985. Pappas tried to control the activities of his aides both on and off the job, he said, sometimes listening to their phone conversations on an office extension. Ellicott and others interviewed said Pappas discouraged his aides from dating, and Ellicott said that when staff members went out anyway, "He would make demands on your time to prevent you from continuing the relationship . . . . You had to be willing to go out with Pappas and drink with him in order to keep your job.
"It was terrible -- you had no control over your own life whatsoever," he said.
Ourth, 29, was a politically active college student in Iowa when he met Pappas in 1984. Pappas contacted Ourth in Michigan in December 1985 and offered him a job in Washington as Dyson's press secretary.
"It was a dream to me to come to the U.S. House," Ourth said last week. "When he called me in Michigan, he asked if I was a womanizer. I said no. He said, 'You can't date for the first year.' "
Ourth stayed at Pappas' house for five weeks while he searched for an apartment. He said he felt pressured to socialize exclusively with Pappas and other high-ranking staff members, whom Pappas called the elite "Officers' Club."
Relations began to sour, Ourth said, when he began dating. "He called me the 'wayward son,' " Ourth recalled. "He told me, 'You've lost the focus.' "
Six months after taking the job, Ourth quit during an argument with Pappas. Ourth had flown to Michigan over the weekend to take part in a swimming competition to raise money for charity after Pappas had told him not to go. When Ourth disobeyed and then missed two days of work the next week because of a bad sunburn, he said, Pappas became enraged and threatened to suspend him. Ourth said he decided he had had enough.
"It was a nightmare," said Ourth, stressing that he doesn't blame Dyson for his problems. "Never was I so relieved as when I quit."
Staff writer Susan Schmidt contributed to this report.