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Ex-Shuster aide admits spying

Says he was told to snoop on GOP primary opponent

Thursday, November 06, 2003

By Dennis B. Roddy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A former aide to U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, said yesterday that the congressman assigned him to spy on an opponent in next year's Republican primary.

Joshua Juda, who quit Shuster's staff on Oct. 31, said Shuster and his chief of staff, Alex Mistri, instructed him to gather information on Michael DelGrosso, who plans to run against Shuster. Juda said the work was done during his government work hours.

"At each occasion, it was my understanding that I was functioning in my capacity as a congressional staff member for which I was being paid through the congressional payroll," Juda said in a statement released yesterday. "I was not employed by any other outside organization or internal division of Congressman Shuster's office."

DelGrosso, 33, a former Washington management consultant and heir to the DelGrosso Italian foods business, announced plans to challenge Shuster, a second-term incumbent who inherited the seat in the 9th District from his father, E.G. "Bud" Shuster.

The district stretches across a broad swath of south-central Pennsylvania and takes in portions of counties as far east as Perry and Cumberland and ranges as far west as sections of Indiana and Fayette.

DelGrosso moved back to Blair County last year to devote full time to unseating Shuster.

Juda said yesterday he had been assigned to look in on a DelGrosso fund-raiser June 6 and that he was later asked to return to Tipton on Sept. 10 and 12 to monitor DelGrosso's home. At the time, Juda was a junior member of Shuster's staff, working 25 hours a week.

"I was also instructed by Congressman Shuster directly not to inform anyone of my activity relative to the observation of Mr. DelGrosso. Further requests were made of me not to use office phones or unsecured lines that could link my observation activities to my official capacity as a congressional staff member," Juda said in his statement.

Mistri, Shuster's chief of staff, yesterday vehemently denied Juda's allegations.

"Politics on government time is prohibited in the office of Congressman Shuster. As chief of staff, I strictly enforce this. There was not one penny of taxpayer money spent on this incident. Anything said to the contrary is false," Mistri's statement read.

Juda's activities came to light this summer, when DelGrosso's neighbors in the Blair County community of Tipton noticed a red Volkswagen parked in their neighborhood. They said the driver sped away each time he was approached.

Neighbors eventually got a license plate and authorities tracked the plate to Juda in September.

When residents learned that Juda worked for Shuster, they complained to the congressman's office.

Late last month, Shuster issued a statement blaming the episode on "an overzealous volunteer" who had not been authorized to carry out such activity.

But Juda insisted he was not involved with any Shuster volunteer group "and it was my understanding that all of my activities were covered within my allotted 25 hours per week."

Christy Farmer, deputy press secretary for Shuster, said the office would have no further comment.

DelGrosso last night called the allegations "very serious."

"It is a direct violation of House ethics rules and it could have serious legal consequences."

The political consequences of the act remain uncertain, although neighbors in Tipton were angry yesterday at what they believed was an outright deception by Shuster. Originally, mothers in the neighborhood became worried when they saw a red Volkswagen Jetta parked near a school bus stop.

State police investigated, but did not share any information about the car's occupant, they said, because no charges were filed.

Glenna Hughes said her daughter was afraid to walk home from elementary school alone after twice seeing the car. Hughes said Shuster visited her Saturday to apologize.

"He said that they had talked to the staffer and that they were sorry it had happened that one time. I said 'No, it was more than the one time,' " Hughes said. "He said he was assured that it was just the one time."

Hughes said she had long been a Shuster supporter but was likely to switch.

"This whole situation probably gave Michael DelGrosso one hell of a campaign worker," Hughes said.


Dennis Roddy can be reached at droddy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1965.

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