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Police probe security breach at Unger's office

August 11, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Police at West Virginia's capitol complex in Charleston, W.Va., are trying to determine who apparently entered state Sen. John Unger's office without permission and breached security at the West Wing office.

Jay Smithers, director of the West Virginia Division of Protective Services, said this week he didn't know if a crime had been committed in the Democratic senator's office when photographs were taken of state government directories, or "Blue Books," stacked on a desk. The official resource books often are provided to members of the media and constituents by lawmakers.

Jerry Mays, Unger's Republican opponent in the November general election, recently claimed that Unger abused the privileges of his office by mailing the books as part of re-election efforts.

Unger on Thursday dismissed that claim and other related charges detailed in two news releases by Mays.

"It's a shame that we're not focused in on the problems and the challenges facing the Eastern Panhandle," Unger said.

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Like any other breach of security, Smithers said investigators are reviewing video surveillance tapes and other records to determine when Unger's office door was accessed.

"We certainly are concerned that someone stepped into that office," Smithers said. "Those offices are sometimes full of sensitive information that may be privileged and not available to the public."

Smithers emphasized in an interview Wednesday that security breaches at the capitol complex are not rare, and the Division of Protective Services is treating the situation involving Unger's office like any other.

"We're not into the political games here," said Smithers, who was contacted by Unger last week about the photograph. "This is not getting attention just because it happens to be Senator Unger's office."

Smithers said the photograph in question appears to provide evidence it was taken from inside the office. The image is posted on a Web site advocating the Republican Party agenda and articles about Mays' claims against Unger.

"It's difficult enough for challengers to compete with incumbents in West Virginia," said Mays in a news release. "But it's nearly impossible when sitting Senators can use the resources of taxpayers for endless self-promotion. Candidates should have a level playing field. The public deserves that much. I will aggressively fight any efforts by my opponent to campaign at taxpayer expense, or through the misuse of his office, materials or staff."

Mays announced Monday that he filed complaints with the West Virginia Ethics Commission and the U.S. Postal Service about the Blue Book mailing.

Unger, 37, denied any wrongdoing Thursday, explaining the books are part of constituent services he has provided every year since first being elected in 1998. Unger is seeking a third four-year term.

Lewis Brewer, legal counsel for the state Ethics Commission, confirmed Wednesday that many lawmakers regularly have distributed the books to constituents, a practice not considered unethical.

"If it was, I'd have to lock up half the Legislature or more," Brewer said.

Brewer declined to comment about the specific allegations of Mays' reported complaint or confirm that it was filed by the 63-year-old Republican.

Anyone with information about the breach of Unger's office may contact Smithers at the Division of Protective Services at 304-558-9911.

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