A federal grand jury has indicted Juanita Yvette Lozano, former aide to a media firm contracted by George W. Bush, for allegedly mailing his secret debate preparation material to Democratic rival Al Gore's team during the heat of campaign battle last year.
Lozano faces 15 years in prison and a $75,000 fine if convicted on all three counts: mail fraud, making false statements to the FBI and perjury before a grand jury.
Lozano was an employee of Maverick Media, an Austin, Texas, firm that did consulting work for Bush.
"If the allegations are true," Bush spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters today, "We are very surprised and very disappointed."
The Bush campaign had repeatedly insisted the person behind the pilfered debate materials must have been from the Gore team.
Last fall, secret briefing books and videotape of Bush's debate preparations were mailed from Austin to Gore confidant Tom Downey, who immediately turned the material over to authorities.
'Good Luck — Amy'
The indictment, returned by a grand jury in Austin, Texas, charges Lozano under two mail fraud statutes. Stealing and leaking the material to the political enemy, the indictment charges, amounted to a scheme to "defraud the Bush campaign of valuable property" and "to defraud and deprive" her employer of "honest and faithful services, performed free from deceit, bias, self-dealing, embezzlement and concealment."
Lozano, at the time an assistant to Maverick head Mark McKinnon, emerged early on as one of the main targets of FBI suspicion, after she was captured on a post office surveillance camera mailing a package on Sept. 11 — the day the debate prep material was mailed. The package containing the sensitive material arrived Sept. 13 in Downey's Washington office with a cover note reading, "I will call you soon to find out what other materials can be useful to the VP… Good luck — Amy."
The indictment charges Lozano shipped the package under the pseudonym "Amy Smith."
In their investigation, the FBI seized computers from both Lozano's home in Austin and the Maverick office. According to the indictment, files on those computers show Lozano surfed Internet directories to search for Downey's contact information.
In voluntary interviews with FBI agents and the grand jury, Lozano repeatedly insisted the package she sent did not contain the debate material but a pair of pants from The Gap she was sending back for McKinnon. In grand jury testimony delivered on Feb. 6, she was asked, "You did not knowingly or intentionally send anything to Mr. Downey, is that right?"
"That's correct," she answered.
Praying on a Rosary
Previously, she had denied involvement in interviews with reporters. In an interview with ABCNEWS' Jackie Judd on Sept. 28, 2000, Lozano repeated those claims and said, "The truth is on my side."
"I pray a rosary every night," Lozano said, "that the truth will come out."
Lozano's lawyer, Chris Gunter, said his client is "disappointed" about the indictment.
McKinnon, who stood by her side throughout the ordeal, called it "devastating."
"To say I'm disappointed would be an understatement," McKinnon said.
When Lozano first became a suspect, he had called it "a terrible, unfortunate coincidence" that she was at the post office at the time the tape was mailed.
"They're targeting a young, innocent woman whose only mistake was to mail a package for me to get some pants," McKinnon said at the time.
Holding up the package he said contained the pants he received in exchange from The Gap, McKinnon told ABCNEWS, "We are absolutely positive, absolutely, that she was not mailing the package in question. It was this package."
President Bush found time to call McKinnon today to let the consultant know that he is not being blamed for the incident.
"The president has great trust in Mark McKinnon," McClellan said. "He is a very loyal member of our team and always will be."
Jackie Judd and Beverley Lumpkin contributed to this report.