Political Accusations Fly Over Philly Mayor's Office Bugging

July 7, 2008 - 8:29 PM

Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - The FBI investigation that placed listening devices in the office of Philadelphia's mayor took an even more political turn Thursday with one member of Congress suggesting that the probe is politically motivated. The federal prosecutor in charge of the investigation denied that charge.

Mayor John Street, a Democrat and former career city council member, is locked in what political observers have described as a bitter battle on its best days with Sam Katz, a Republican businessman. Street has been embroiled by as-of-yet unproven allegations of widespread corruption in his administration including accusations of granting city contracts to political supporters and family members.

When news leaked to the media that an electronic listening device installed by the FBI had been discovered in Street's office, his opponents seized on the opportunity to suggest that an FBI investigation gave credence to the corruption claims.

"I would say that the evidence well prior to anything that's going on here today or yesterday reinforces my view that this is an administration engaged in cronyism, secrecy, nepotism, and sweetheart deals for their friends," Katz told The Philadelphia Inquirer Wednesday.

Street denied the allegations.

"I haven't done anything wrong," Street proclaimed, "and I don't know that anybody in my cabinet or in my staff around me has done anything wrong."

Street's supporters and political aides saw the FBI bug as proof of an entirely different set of allegations.

"The Republican Party, dating back to Watergate ... has not been averse to dirty political tricks," Frank Keel, Street's campaign spokesman told the Philadelphia Daily News . "I'll leave it at that."

Keel also told the Daily News that he believes Philadelphia has been targeted by the Republican Party leadership.

"Pennsylvania is critical to [President] Bush's re-election hopes," Keel said. "So is it inconceivable that something like this could be triggered by the Republicans, in an effort to win Philadelphia, in an effort to help George W. Bush get re-elected? I don't know. I would speculate that it's possible."

Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter reportedly told the newspaper that such charges are "ridiculous," but at least one member of Congress is entertaining the conspiracy theory.

"The discovery of a listening device in Mayor Street's office has created an atmosphere of confusion and suspicion," said Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.). "It's time for the air to be cleared."

Fattah believes the FBI should issue a public statement clarifying why conversations in Street's office were being monitored.

"For the bureau to remain silent when Philadelphians are deserving answers is irresponsible. It creates an air of suspicion just weeks before the election," Fattah said. "If the mayor is not the intended subject of the investigation, just say so. The FBI owes us that much."

U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan denied the charges of political underpinnings Wednesday.

"That's been the history of my predecessors, both Democrat and Republican, and I can assure you that's the way I conduct this office as well," Meehan told reporters. "My office has a long and proud history of doing its work without regard to partisan politics."

And Richard Manieri, Meehan's spokesman, said Street has been told about the nature of the investigation that led to his office being monitored.

"We have stated very clearly to Mayor Street and his attorney the mayor's status in this matter," Manieri said. The FBI has acknowledged that it served search warrants issued as part of the same investigation that led to the bugging of Street's office, but refused to elaborate further.

Although the FBI's official policy is to remain silent about such investigations, Fattah says the bureau is inconsistent. He claims that during the 1980s when former Philadelphia Mayor Bill Green was in office and word that he was under investigation leaked to the press, the FBI publicly denied the report.

"Why that same courtesy can't be extended to Mayor Street," Fattah concluded, "is a mystery."

Listen to audio for this story.

E-mail a news tip to Jeff Johnson.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.