By M.E. SPRENGELMEYER AND AIMEE PARNES
Sexually-explicit messages from former Rep. Mark Foley to one former congressional page might be just the tip of the iceberg, the leader of an alumni association for former congressional pages said over the weekend.
While Foley was forced to resign this week after published reports of "friendly" e-mails to one 16-year-old male page and the pending broadcast of more sexually-explicit instant messages, similar, graphic messages from him were received by at least three other teenage males who once worked in page program, said Matthew Loraditch, a Maryland college senior who runs the U.S. House Page Alumni Association’s Internet Message board.
Loraditch, who served in the page program in the 2001-2002 session, said he has reviewed graphic messages sent by Foley to "three or four" other males from his page class.
"I’ve known about them for several years now," Loraditch said Saturday.
"It was more like, hey, look at this," said Loraditch, 21. "I don’t think the people in question felt that uncomfortable. It was more, ‘Ooh, look at that creepy guy.’ It was definitely crossing-the-line stuff. The instant message stuff, and stuff I’ve seen and heard about, definitely couldn’t be misconstrued" as merely "friendly" or innocent, Loraditch said. Fallout continued Saturday from Foley’s sudden resignation Friday as copies of his questionable communications with former congressional pages began circulating on the Internet.
A spokesman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed that the agency was deciding whether or not to pursue charges against Foley, a Republican whose resignation has temporarily left the Treasure Coast without representation in Congress.
"We will be discussing this matter with the FBI in an effort to determine if there are grounds for a criminal investigation and if so, who has jurisdiction, " said Tom Berlinger, the chief media spokesman for the FDLE.
A decision was expected this week, Berlinger said, adding that the agency had not yet contacted Foley. FBI officials could not be reached for comment.
Foley came under fire early last week after reports about a series of e-mails sent from his personal AOL account to a then-16-year-old boy. In it, Foley, 52, asked about the boy’s age, what he wanted for his birthday and requested a photograph.
He resigned after a media outlet questioned him about another set of communications, a series of sexually-explicit instant messages with a former congressional page who still was in high school. Among those was one asking the boy, "Do I make you a little horny?"
Loraditch said that during his time on Capitol Hill, Foley was one of the members of Congress who expressed what appeared to be a sincere interest in the young pages, often visiting the areas where they congregate in the corner of the House of Representatives chamber to chat or offer stories and advice.
Loraditch said that he and other pages viewed Foley as gregarious and "flaky" at the time, and that he offered several of them, not including Loraditch, his personal e-mail when they were graduating from the program and saying goodbyes.
After Loraditch returned to Maryland and began attending college at Towson University, several former male pages told him they had received Internet messages that were similar to the graphic messages first reported by ABC News last week.
"At the age we were when those things happened, 16 or 17, when you see that kind of stuff, most people our ages know what’s going on and know what’s happening," Loraditch said. "You’re not like a little kid who can be roped into that."
Loraditch said his friends all thought the messages were disturbing, but that they did not report them, either because they did not think they posed a serious threat or because they might have worried about career consequences.
Loraditch said that all his friends received the questionable messages only after they had graduated and left the program, when, theoretically, that would not raise the same in-house sexual harassment issues as if they had been sent when the former pages still worked for Congress.
"This all happened after we were outside the protective umbrella of all our supervisors, not when we were there," Loraditch said. "To me, that indicates some sorta thought process going on in Foley’s mind."
The case has prompted many congressional leaders to talk about stepped-up vigilance to protect the young men and women who serve as congressional pages, who get an up-close look at Congress while doing messenger-like duties for lawmakers.
Loraditch is a big backer of the program for its one-of-a-kind educational benefits, and he believes that none of the supervisors who run the program were aware of any inappropriate messages at the time.
"The supervisors I worked with, if any of them had been told, it would have been dealt with at the time promptly," he said. "All of our supervisors were great people. They love pages. Half of them were former pages and they’ve got kids of they’re own. If they had known about it, it would have been dealt with."
In the wake of the Foley scandal, many pages worry that the program could be drastically altered or eliminated entirely in an over-reaction intended to protect teenagers.
"The page program is a good program. I firmly believe that the program could not have done anything more to protect the pages," he said. "It all happened after we left and had done our service."