To TV news viewers nationwide, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose was a sturdy, commanding presence in the whirl of a storm -- the tight-lipped, square-jawed lawman who was the public face of October's Washington area sniper manhunt. Now the crisis that made him a household name is offering the temptation of cash.
A New York literary agent who has been pitching the chief's story to publishers said yesterday that Moose plans to announce Tuesday that a deal has been struck for a book and possibly a movie. The agent, David Vigliano, would not identify the buyer or disclose the price.
Yet there could be a glitch: Local officials have warned Moose that the deal, if he profits from it, could land him on the wrong side of Montgomery's strict government ethics provisions.
The county Ethics Commission has barred police commanders from accepting even nominal fees, beyond expenses, for speaking publicly about the sniper shootings at law enforcement conferences. In doing so, the commission pointed to rules that prohibit a public official from "using the prestige of his or her office for personal gain" and from disclosing confidential information, which could include details of a police investigation.
But County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), who hired Moose in 1999, said he believes the chief warrants an exception, given his central role in an investigation that riveted the nation.
"This is a special circumstance," Duncan said. "He's got a great story to tell America, and he should be able to do that. Yes, we've got some ethics issues to get through, but we'll look at anything we need to do to make it work."
If necessary, Duncan said, he would ask the County Council to pass legislation authorizing the deal.
Vigliano was reticent yesterday about the impending deal but said the chief wants the book to be heavily "autobiographical and more than just his thoughts about the sniper case." One publisher who was approached by the agent described the project as "a blow-by-blow ticktock of the investigation, interspersed with [Moose's] personal story of growing up poor and rising to the position of police chief."
Moose did not return telephone calls seeking his comment on the venture. And the ethics questions appear to have done nothing to slow his plans.
Editors at three major New York publishing houses, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were approached by Vigliano, whose diverse client list includes Pope John Paul II (for a collection of prayer books), Monica Lewinsky's mother, actress Bo Derek and basketball Goliath Shaquille O'Neal. The agent recently made headlines selling the unpublished journals of rock star Kurt Cobain, who committed suicide in 1994.
Several books are planned or in the works about the sniper shootings, which killed 10 people and wounded three while spreading fear and disruption throughout the Washington area for three weeks. One leading New York publishing executive who turned down Moose's proposal said yesterday that, to his knowledge, only one publishing house expressed interest in the chief's story.
At least one other, Random House, turned down the project because it had already agreed to publish a book about the sniper shootings, one being written by reporters at The Washington Post.
Vigliano said Moose initially was reluctant to pursue a book or movie deal, although dozens of publishers, producers and agents approached him, even in October while he was steeped in the investigation.
"It was only when he realized that people were going to be writing something anyway and that this was an opportunity for him to get the correct story out, that he decided to hire me," Vigliano said. "It's not something he went looking for or has any expertise in handling."
Vigliano said he selected Charles Fleming, a former Newsweek correspondent who has written about show business for Vanity Fair, to help Moose with the book.
But first there are the ethics hurdles to clear, said Barbara McNally, the Ethics Commission's executive secretary.
Among the provisions that would have to be considered, she said, are prohibitions against an employee using a job title, uniform or the county insignia in a private enterprise; restrictions on outside contracts and employment; and rules forbidding employees to use county resources or county time for personal profit.
Precedent appears to stand against Moose. In 1994, for example, the commission denied a request by a Montgomery department head who wanted approval to write and sell a training textbook, drawing on expertise gained while employed by the county.
McNally would not hazard an opinion on how Moose's plans would fare with commission members, assuming he asked for their input.
"The chief is very upstanding, and I'm sure he would come to the commission if he was planning on doing anything," she added.
County Council member Philip Andrews (D-Rockville), who chairs the council's public safety committee, said he also has faith that the chief will avoid crossing ethical boundaries.
"I think he has to be careful, and I'm sure he would," Andrews said. "But I have no objection as long as he's careful to do it on his own time and not to use his position to promote the book."
As for any objection to Moose profiting from tragic events, council member Howard A. Denis (R-Potomac-Bethesda) said he did not think Montgomery residents would mind. After all, he said, former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani wrote a book after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on his city.
"I just hope it won't do anything to take the luster off [Moose's] accomplishment," Denis said. "I think it would be unfortunate if that effort, the way he handled this crisis, was in any way tarnished."