Chandra Levy had confided an intense and secretive romantic relationship with her hometown congressman, Gary A. Condit, according to a lengthy statement released Friday by the missing woman's aunt, who said she went public because she believes Condit's ongoing silence is "hindering efforts to find Chandra."
Linda Zamsky said her niece left her a message on April 29 saying she had "some really big news or something important to tell," according to attorneys for the Levy family. Levy was last seen the next day.
Zamsky details a months-long relationship that went far beyond simple friendship, as Condit has characterized it. Zamsky said her niece told her about the alleged affair in confidence--including elaborate methods she used to see him, his gifts of chocolates and plane tickets, and Levy's hopes for marriage and children with the already-married congressman.
Zamsky first talked about her niece's admissions in an interview with the Washington Post published Friday. She reiterated in her statement that Levy sounded "upbeat and full of life" in the last answering machine message she left and that no one in the family thinks she committed suicide.
The account of Levy's last message and demeanor adds another layer of mystery to an already puzzling missing person case. What was Levy's big news and did it have anything to do with her disappearance? The family said they hope the release of details about the alleged affair will force the popular six-term congressman to speak openly about his relationship with the 25-year-old intern.
The Ceres Democrat, who has been married to Carolyn Condit for more than 35 years and has two adult children, has said he befriended the young woman. But through his congressional spokesman, he has denied having a romantic relationship with her.
On Friday, Condit again declined to speak about the matter, issuing a statement through the public relations firm he has hired to handle the deluge of media inquiries.
"We understand that the Levy family is doing whatever it can to help find Chandra," said Marina Ein of Washington-based Ein Communications. "What Congressman Condit and anyone else can do is tell the authorities who are looking for her what they know that can be helpful. The congressman and Mrs. Condit have done so on a number of occasions."
Ein said the Condits' decision "not to fuel an already out-of-control media frenzy" should be viewed separately from their "complete willingness" to help police investigators.
Police in Washington said they remain focused on finding Levy--a curly-haired woman who had worked as an intern at the Federal Bureau of Prisons since the fall. She was last seen April 30 while canceling her gym membership, although police have indicated that her phone and computer records show she was last in her apartment May 1.
She was expected to return to California for her May 11 graduation from a USC master's program.
"Our main focus is actually to investigate the disappearance of Chandra Levy," said police spokesman Kervin Johnson. "We're not investigating anything outside of that."
Levy's parents have said that they believe Condit knows more about her last days in Washington than he has told police. And the family, Zamsky said, is "frustrated and outraged" that Condit and his staff have "mischaracterized" his relationship with Levy.
Zamsky said her niece had high hopes for the relationship even as she went to great lengths to keep it secret. Levy first told her last Thanksgiving about a relationship with an older, married man who had two children, which had begun four to six weeks earlier.
Levy, her aunt said, was so protective of her "guy" that his name only slipped out accidentally--when she was describing to Zamsky the various methods she used to contact him.
"She said, 'And I would also call the office and he would--you know, they'd answer, "Gary Condit," ' and that's how his name came out," Zamsky said. "And she goes, 'Oops.' She says, 'Oh, you didn't hear that, did you?' And I said, 'No.' And of course I did."
According to her aunt, Levy said she would leave messages with specific times when Condit--whom she described as a fit 53-year-old who looked "a little bit like Harrison Ford"--could reach her on her cell phone.
Zamsky, 40, a resident of Maryland's Eastern Shore, said her niece was "aware . . . that he had had previous relationships."
Flight attendant Anne Marie Smith alleged earlier this week that she had an affair with Condit--something she said he asked her to deny in a written statement after Levy disappeared.
Levy told her aunt that her time with Condit was spent mostly in his apartment. Going out, she told her aunt, required discretion.
"She would come out the door, grab the taxi and then he would come out, baseball cap, jacket, kind of a little incognito, and he would get in the cab with her," Zamsky said.
Zamsky said Levy showed her a gold bracelet she said had been a holiday gift from Condit. For Valentine's Day, her niece reported receiving a card and some Godiva chocolates. Zamsky described Levy--with whom she had a close relationship since marrying the young woman's uncle eight years ago--as "a very practical young lady, and she didn't need frivolous things."
However, she said Levy told her Condit had paid for at least one--and possibly two--trips back to California that she needed to make to complete school requirements.
Back home in Modesto, family members and friends of Levy's said her conversations with her Aunt Linda about marrying Condit and raising a family show a dreamy, unrealistic side that they thought she had grown out of.
She rarely dated men her age, they said, preferring boyfriends who were mature and established in a career.
"She knew the score when it came to relationships with older men, especially married ones," said Joanne Tittle, a neighbor and confidant. "She would go into it knowing that she was the 'other woman.' She wouldn't be naive about expectations. For her, such a relationship meant freedom, no obligations."
Garvey reported from Washington and Arax from Fresno.