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Former Florida Congressman Mark Foley is unlikely to face criminal charges for sending sexually explicit e-mails to teenage boys, sources close to the year-long investigation have told Scripps Howard News Service.
That could change if new evidence surfaces in the next week that proves Foley, 52, sent online messages to male teenagers with the intent to “seduce, solicit, lure, entice, or attempt to seduce a child,” a third degree felony under Florida law.
But as of now, the collapse of Foley’s political career may be the most severe consequence that the former Republican congressman faces for the revelations that stunned his longtime supporters and prompted his immediate resignation, just weeks before the 2006 election.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said this week that the investigation should be completed within the next several days.
Sources close to the investigation told Scripps that to date there has been no criminal finding against Foley. Once the investigation is completed, it will be turned over to prosecutors in Pensacola, Fla. Pensacola has jurisdiction in the case because that is where Foley was when he sent one of the explicit messages.
Joe diGenova, the former U.S. Attorney for Washington, D.C., said investigators likely could not prove the case had merit.
“My guess is they probably have been unable to find evidence of an actual relationship,” diGenova said. “Although the e-mails were suggestive, they didn’t violate a statute.”
Foley resigned from Congress last September after ABC News reported that he wrote e-mail messages to a former congressional page on his personal account. In the e-mails, Foley asked for the teenager’s picture and inquired about what he wanted for his birthday. The following day, ABC News released a series of sexually-charged online messages Foley had sent other teenage congressional pages, who act as messengers and couriers on Capitol Hill.
State and federal law enforcement officials began investigating the online messages almost immediately. An FBI investigation has so far not moved beyond a preliminary stage, an FBI source said. It was unclear if that investigation would proceed if Florida officials brought no charges against Foley.
Earlier this week, Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials said they asked to review federally owned computers Foley used during his 12 years as a congressman. But House officials blocked the release of the computers and the documents contained in them, citing a court decision that protects congressional working papers. Authorization to review such documents must be granted by the individual lawmaker involved, House officials said.
On Thursday, the Associated Press obtained a letter written by House officials to the FDLE that said they had not found any graphic photos in the e-mails they reviewed. But investigators reportedly said they are still interested in finding out what other communications Foley may have sent.
Florida investigators are currently working with Foley’s lawyer as well as the FBI to see if they can review the computer’s contents, the FDLE said. The FBI already has many of the documents in its possession, state officials said.
Law enforcement officials began investigating the online messages almost immediately.
Investigators were particularly interested in one incident, they said. While campaigning for a Senate seat in 2003, Foley sent a string of online messages to a male teenager describing sexual acts, and a state investigator said earlier this year that it might constitute a violation of the state’s law on Internet sex predators.
“This type of activity would fall under Florida law’s criminal statute,” Maureen Horkan, the director of the Child Predator Cybercrime Unit in the Florida Attorney General’s Office, said at the time, adding that the statute is “broad.”
If the case resulted in a conviction for a third degree felony, the penalty could be a jail sentence of up to five years.
Attempts to reach Foley, who has been spotted recently in the tony Florida town of Palm Beach, were unsuccessful Friday.
“We respectfully decline comment while the investigation is still pending,” said Foley’s West Palm Beach attorney David Roth.
Roth has repeatedly denied that Foley has done anything illegal. As he said just days after Foley’s abrupt resignation from Congress: “any suggestion that Mark Foley is a pedophile is false.”
It was at the same press conference that Roth told reporters that Foley was a gay man and that he had been sexually abused by a clergyman when he was a teenager.
Roth said Foley “does not blame the trauma he sustained as a young adolescent for his totally inappropriate e-mails. He continues to offer no excuse whatsoever for his conduct.”