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Police, Phone Company Implicated : Alleged Wiretap Scheme Investigated in Cincinnati

Times Staff Writer

Bob Draise never cared much for black militants and drug dealers.

So, he says now, when a Cincinnati police sergeant asked him in 1972 to wiretap the local Black Muslim headquarters, and later the homes of people the police said were criminals, Draise, a telephone installer for Cincinnati Bell, readily agreed.

He even gave the police the name of a co-worker he said would help. Soon, however, the two phone workers claim, they were tapping the lines of congressmen, federal judges, defense contractors, city officials, businessmen, news reporters, lawyers and even top local FBI and police officials--all at the direction of either the police intelligence unit or their Cincinnati Bell supervisors.

Now, a federal grand jury is investigating charges of illegal wiretapping by the police and the telephone company. In testimony before it, Draise and Leonard Gates, the other Bell employee, claim to have tapped more than 1,300 phones from 1972 to 1984.

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“Hell, they did President Ford when he came to town,” Draise said in an interview. “The movers and shakers of this town have been wiretapped, the people who control the money in this town.”

According to allegations made before the grand jury and in a separate $112-million class-action lawsuit filed against Cincinnati Bell and the Police Department, employees of the telephone company, in addition to doing the Police Department’s bidding, also sold commercially sensitive information obtained by wiretaps to “preferred Bell customers.”

The spying operation headed by the police allegedly involved other illegal acts, including burglaries and arson.

Five police officers, including a former police chief, have taken the Fifth Amendment before the grand jury rather than answer questions about their roles in the wiretapping scheme. Spokesmen for Cincinnati Bell flatly deny that the allegations are true.

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“Mr. Draise and Mr. Gates are lying when they say that Cincinnati Bell forced or authorized them to do any illegal wiretaps,” company spokeswoman Cyndi Cantoni said.

Sees Bid for Revenge

She contends that the two men are making the allegations as retribution against the company for firing them.

“Mr. Draise was fired because he got caught doing wiretapping and Mr. Gates was fired because he was a bad manager,” she said.

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Draise was convicted in 1979 in federal court of wiretapping a telephone for a friend. He was forced to resign. Gates was fired in 1986. He alleges that he was fired partly because he refused to place any more illegal wiretaps.

Some of the men’s allegations have been corroborated before the grand jury by others with knowledge of the wiretapping operation, including a police sergeant and the former chief of security at the hotel where then-President Gerald R. Ford stayed when he visited Cincinnati in 1972.

Howard Lucas, the former Stouffer’s Hotel security chief, said in an interview that he was approached by a police sergeant for access to the hotel’s telephone switching room a month before Ford’s visit.

Recognized as Officers

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Lucas, who refused the request, said the police sergeant had come to the hotel with five men, several of whom he recognized as police officers, and a Bell workmen whom he has since learned was Gates.

Two days after Lucas refused the police request, he said he found wiretapping equipment and a voice-activated tape recorder hidden in the telephone switching room.

Neither the telephone company nor the Police Department acknowledged that it owned the equipment, so he destroyed it, Lucas said.

He said he saw some of the men at the hotel on two other occasions before Ford’s visit, but that he never found any more wiretapping equipment.

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Gates has said, however, that he succeeded in tapping Ford’s room, despite Lucas’ resistance. Gates said he was told that the wiretapping was being done at the behest of the FBI for security purposes.

Other wiretap targets allegedly included Procter & Gamble and Wren Business Communications Systems, a rival of Cincinnati Bell. Draise told investigators that Bell employees routinely monitored customer calls to Wren.

‘Felt They Had a Ghost’

“I was not surprised by the allegations,” said David Stoner, president of Wren Communications. “It made sense because of things that had occurred that were improbable statistically. . . . Our marketing people felt they had a ghost continually.

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“Repeatedly, we would talk to people who were dissatisfied with Cincinnati Bell. For the sake of an example, let’s say that we would talk to someone on a Tuesday and make an appointment to see them on a Thursday or a Wednesday. Well, on Wednesday or Thursday, Cincinnati Bell would already be on the site without having been called,” Stoner said.

Referring to other occurrences that he termed “curious,” Stoner said: “I’m not convinced that it has stopped.”

Police Chief Lawrence Whalen and former Chief Carl Goodin, who headed the department from 1971 to 1976, have both denied any knowledge of wiretapping activities. They have yet to testify before the grand jury.

Former Chief Myron Leistler, who retired in 1985, invoked the Fifth Amendment last month when he was asked about wiretapping.

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A police sergeant who has been granted limited immunity from prosecution has testified that the police intelligence unit worked closely with Cincinnati Bell to perform illegal wiretaps and that the illegally gained information was shared with the FBI and other agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service.

The police intelligence unit even was supplied with Cincinnati Bell equipment, including a Bell truck, so that policemen who were capable of performing wiretaps could perform them on their own, he said.

The intelligence unit was created in 1968 to gather information about subversive groups and organized crime figures.

The class-action suit, which was filed by three former policemen who say that they were themselves wiretap targets, allege that the unit quickly developed “a life of its own” and began investigating anyone it deemed “suspicious.”

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Some former officers allege that the police went so far as to deliberately set a fire that destroyed the offices of an underground newspaper, the Independent Eye, in 1970. That arson case is still unsolved.

Draise and Gates also allege that they were involved in spying that took place at a General Electric plant here.

Gates contends that he wiretapped two lines at the plant in late 1983 and early 1984. Draise, who was permanently stationed at GE for 1 1/2 years to service their telephone system, said he gathered information on the plant’s computer modems, data transmission lines and telephone lines.

The men said that they were ordered to do this by supervisors at Bell but that they have no idea how the information gleaned from the wiretaps was used.

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Firm Is Investigating

GE has refused to comment on the wiretapping stories, but the Mt. Washington Press, a weekly newspaper that has aggressively covered the scandal, has reported that the defense contractor is investigating a possible link between the alleged wiretaps and the loss of defense contracts to Pratt & Whitney, a competitor in the aircraft-engine industry.

The paper reported that GE had verified the presence of wiretaps on its telephones as recently as August of last year.

Both Draise and Gates say that at the time of their firing, they had begun to question whether what they were doing was proper.

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“I used to think that with drug dealers, the ends justified the means,” Draise said. “I don’t particularly like drugs, period. And however they put them in jail I don’t care. But it was getting to the point where you had to ask where do you draw the line as to what is OK and what’s not OK.”

The GE episode, which both men say they suspected was espionage, was the incident that first gave them pause, they said.

Draise said the last straw came when he was asked to tap the phones of a columnist for the Cincinnati Enquirer, Frank Weikle. He said he felt the police wanted the line tapped so that they could learn the identity of Weikle’s anonymous sources.

The men say they were told many of the wiretaps were for the FBI.

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Some local politicians were wiretapped, they were told, because they opposed Bell rate hikes. Sometimes, they said, they were asked by police officers and FBI agents to place wiretaps on other law enforcers, including two police chiefs and the special agent in charge of the Cincinnati FBI office, because the targets were suspected of improprieties.

“I think this goes back to the 1950s and the era of McCarthy, with Hoover heading the FBI and conducting surveillance of American citizens,” said Stoner, who was himself allegedly the target of wiretapping. “I think you’ve got a situation that started and never stopped, despite the fact that the FBI promised to cease and desist.”

A 1968 federal law forbade wiretapping except by court order or for reasons of national security. In either case, the attorney general is supposed to approve each instance of domestic electronic surveillance by federal agencies.

“I think it started with a monopoly that thought it could do anything and a justice system that was prompting it,” said Stoner, “and I think it progressed from there to a situation where it was done with the local police.”

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Draise and Gates said they were never challenged while on their wiretapping assignments. “Nobody ever challenges a telephone repairman when he’s wearing his belt,” Draise said.

Cites Top-Level Discussions

Gates maintains that he met in parking garages with the late Cincinnati Bell President Richard Dugan three times to discuss his concerns about the wiretaps. He said he was assured that while wiretapping was a “gray area” of the law, the activities were “authorized.”

Bell spokeswoman Cantoni disputed this, saying: “We think it’s very convenient that Mr. Dugan is dead and is not here to defend himself.”

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Gates claims he first went outside Bell to get help to stop the wiretapping in 1981, when he anonymously called the office of Ohio Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum. Later, in 1985, Gates and his attorney met with Rep. Bill Gradison to inform him of the wiretaps.

Both Gates and Draise say that they first were approached to do wiretapping by Police Sgt. Jerry Berry, who paid them up to $100 per wiretap out of a police informants fund. Later, they said, they received their orders from former Bell security officers Peter Gabor and James West, who have both denied the allegations. Draise and Gates said they were paid overtime for doing them.

The allegations, which have shaken the faith many Cincinnatians had in their police force and in the phone company, also could have disastrous consequences in the criminal justice system.

One case based on possibly tainted police evidence was to come to trial on Tuesday amid fears that an untold number of previous convictions could be overturned if the wiretap allegations prove to be true.

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However, the defendant, Robert G. Joseph, an automobile dealer charged with mishandling federally insured loans to his dealership, pleaded guilty Thursday in a plea agreement.

His lawyer had argued that the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office illegally obtained evidence against him through telephone wiretaps.

Gates has testified that he wiretapped Joseph’s lawyer and several members of Joseph’s family on orders from his Bell superiors.

Joseph’s attorney said after the plea agreement that he had been unable to identify what information the investigators got from wiretaps.

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