A New Jersey senator is asking the National Rifle Association to explain itself in the wake of reports last week that the organization hired a mole to infiltrate a gun-control lobbying group in Pennsylvania.
According to the AP, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat, demanded Thursday that the NRA respond to reports claiming the group paid 62-year-old Mary McFate to spy on nonviolence groups.
According to the Associated Press, in a letter faxed to the Virginia NRA headquarters Thursday, Lautenberg wrote: "Although the NRA and I have certainly had our disagreements over the year, I hope that we can agree that the gun violence prevention debate should be based upon an open and honest exchange of ideas, not on underhanded tactics."
The senator's demand came a week after reports that for more than a decade, McFate worked for gun-control groups, volunteering her time to organize protests, develop policy, lobby politicians and serve on their executive boards.
McFate was, according to Angus McQuilken, a board member at the anti-gun group Freedom States Alliance, on which she also served as "a model of passionate advocacy for our cause."
But according to a report in Mother Jones magazine, McFate was really Mary Lou Sapone, a "research consultant" hired by the National Rifle Association to spy on the very groups who believed she was there to help.
According to Mother Jones, Sapone, operating under her maiden name "McFate," began appearing at anti-gun protests in the 1990s, soon after she had been outed in another case of activist espionage. In 1990 it was revealed that she infiltrated an animal-rights group on behalf of a surgical supply company.
Sapone served on the boards of the Freedom States Alliance and Ceasefire Pennsylvania, and twice ran for a board position at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, ABC News confirmed.
"One of the reasons we have lobbying disclosure rules is so that the public knows who's lobbying the elected – but also so the elected know who's coming before them, and who's really paying them," the president of the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence, Paul Helmke, told the AP, responding to the allegations of breaking lobbying laws.
The magazine closely connects her to the now-defunct private security firm Beckett Brown International, which earned a reputation for hiring former U.S. intelligence agents and which has been linked to several cases of spying on activist groups, including Greenpeace.
In a 2003 deposition, BBI's former president, Tim Ward, testified that he hired Sapone to work on behalf of the National Rifle Association, according to Mother Jones.
"We used informants that we would send to public rallies that these people were holding, public demonstrations. These informants developed relationships where they could pick up a phone and call in to find out where the next event was, where it was going to be held… They are usually very eager to have somebody come and tote banners and scream and shout," Mother Jones quotes Ward as saying.
When reached by ABC News, Ward said he knew Mary Sapone but not a Mary McFate, and would not comment further.
Sapone did not return calls placed by ABC News. Neighbors in Sarasota, Fla., said Sapone, who went by her maiden name, McFate, in the community, was on vacation in Belize and often spoke about working for the NRA.
The NRA did not return calls placed by ABCNews.com.