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Philly mayor turns over e-mail devices

Philadelphia Mayor John Street
Philadelphia Mayor John Street

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PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Philadelphia Mayor John Street Friday turned over wireless e-mail devices to authorities who are conducting a corruption investigation.

Street voluntarily handed over two of the hand-held devices to Philadelphia's police commissioner, who gave them to the FBI, the mayor's spokesman said Saturday. He had turned over another one on Tuesday.

Police had discovered an electronic listening device in the ceiling of his city hall office during a routine security sweep.

Street, 59, elected mayor in 1999 after 20 years in public service, is a "subject" of a two-year, federal investigation into allegations of public corruption, federal government sources have told CNN, although the focus of the investigation is unclear.

The FBI was behind the wiretapping, several government sources have told CNN on the condition of anonymity.

The U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, Patrick Meehan, and the FBI in Philadelphia refuse to detail the case.

Spokesmen have said only that Street has been informed of his status in the investigation and that the bugging of his office had nothing to do with his campaign to be returned to office in the November 4 election.

Federal law enforcement sources have told CNN that neither Attorney General John Ashcroft nor his top aides were involved in the decision to bug the office, though established procedures dictate that local investigators get approval for the plant from Justice Department headquarters before asking a federal judge to sign it.

"So they're saying some bureaucrat can bug the mayor of the fifth-largest city in the country in the months leading up to a re-election?" asked Dan Fee, a Street campaign spokesman.

Crime, Law and Justice

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said he agreed with Street and his predecessor, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, that the timing was suspicious.

"The Ashcroft-led Justice Department should not be used as the Bush administration's political fog machine, ready to generate a cloud of suspicion around the political opponents of the Republican party at a moment's notice," McAuliffe said.

Street, seeking a second term, is running against Republican Sam Katz, who lost to him four years ago by less than 10,000 votes of half a million cast.

An aide close to the mayor called the investigation "a fishing expedition" that was "total political bull."

Street, who has not met with prosecutors, maintains that his representative has been told only that he is not a "target" of the probe.

According to the Justice Department, a "target" is someone whom prosecutors have evidence linking to a crime, while a "subject" is a person whose conduct is within the scope of the investigation.

Before the wiretapping came to light Tuesday, federal grand juries were known to be investigating city contracts for airport maintenance and baggage handling connected to the mayor's brother, and the dismissal of thousands of parking tickets by a city administrative official.

Federal officials Friday collected documents from the city agency that certifies minority-owned companies.

"The mayor has made clear that every government agency is to cooperate 100 percent with this -- fully and without question," said Fee.

While even some Republicans, including Katz and Pennsylvania's senior U.S. senator, Arlen Specter, have asked authorities to explain the cloud hanging over the mayoral campaign, legal experts contend that law enforcement must stay quiet.

"In America, generally, when the government makes allegations, it has to be ready to go into court and defend them. If you're not ready to make those allegations, you shouldn't make them," said former federal prosecutor Daniel Miller.

"That's why silence is golden when you're a prosecutor," said Miller, who teaches at the Fordham University Law School in New York. "Their job is to keep their heads down and to develop cases as they can."

From CNN's Phil Hirschkorn and Jason Carroll in New York and Kelli Arena and Terry Frieden in Washington.

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