State Attorney Bill James intensified his attack on Democratic challenger Harry Lee Coe III on Thursday by claiming that Coe campaign workers have contacted his campaign about plans to infiltrate his office.
In a six-paragraph statement sent to reporters, James said several people in or near Coe's camp called his campaign Wednesday night. According to the statement, the callers were "afraid of the reaction" that Coe's campaign planned in response to news reports that his campaign brochure contained false information.
The callers reportedly said Coe's campaign had stepped up plans to recruit James employees as "plants" to help produce "concocted information" about the state attorney's office.
"I obviously cannot vouch for the callers," James said in his statement. "What is of concern is the evidence of what could become a nightmare campaign if this is not stopped."
James demanded that "Coe must take control of a campaign that is out of control."
Coe denied that his campaign planned to try getting James' employees to work on his behalf.
"That's just coming off the wall, that statement about us badgering his employees," agreed Coe campaign consultant Jim Metcalf. "No way in the world that we would do that."
Coe said James should "quit trying to divert attention away from the real issues of this race."
Coe did say his campaign has stopped using the brochure, which incorrectly describes his background and misstates that a prosecutor had been charged with extortion.
"We're going to have them reprinted," Coe said of the brochures. "We have stopped mailing it, and we'll make those changes."
Coe said he would correct a line in his brochure stating that he once worked as chief assistant state attorney. Actually, he was chief assistant county solicitor. At the time, both the solicitor and the state attorney prosecuted crimes, but the solicitor didn't handle first-degree murders or grand jury matters.
Coe also said he would correct a statement that a prosecutor had been arrested for extortion in a sex offense. Instead, the case involved county victim's assistance counselor Phillip Elting, who, incidentally, supports Coe.
Coe's literature made the reference to Elting in a paragraph calling for "a drug free (and) corruption free state attorney's office." It also made accurate references to two former prosecutors who had been charged with bribery and theft.
"All employees of the state attorney's office will be required to submit to random drug testing," the brochure states. "A drug-free office will be maintained."
In his statement, James said "Harry Coe must personally take responsibility for the false statements, and the clear implication he is making that our staff is using drugs and is corrupt."
Coe said he had no plans to change the way his campaign is run and knows of no volunteers who are worried about his strategy.
"This campaign should be about crime prevention and this community coming together to prevent crime, to which Mr. James retorts that it's not his job," Coe said. "This campaign should be about repairing a broken juvenile court system and an adult jail system. For over eight years, James has not furnished the leadership to make positive changes in these directions."
Coe said he would not correct a claim that a murder charge had been dismissed because of prosecutors' failure to give the defendant a speedy trial.
Coe said public records state that "it's a murder case dismissed on speedy trial, and we stand by that. He needs to explain how it's in the public record. Did he mistakenly report it?"
Coe's campaign took the information from state Supreme Court reports and information at the clerk's office.
Those records indicate that a "non-capital murder" case was lost because the state did not meet the requirement that the defendant receive a speedy trial, Coe said. The records listed a case number _ 88-7894 _ but indicated that the court file had been sealed.
Chief Assistant State Attorney Chris Hoyer said the case concerned a fatal traffic accident involving businessman Frank Agliano.
In May 1988, Agliano's Corvette crashed on Bayshore Boulevard, killing a woman in the car. Agliano claimed he was a passenger, but police thought he was the driver and charged him with manslaughter.
Prosecutors decided not to file formal charges in the case because the circumstantial evidence against Agliano could not support the charge. The question of giving Agliano a speedy trial was not ever an issue.