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FBI casts a wide net in probe of Philadelphia mayor's office

PHILADELPHIA -- Three months after an FBI bug was found in the mayor's office, federal prosecutors have been dropping clues about the probe's scope in letters to people whose conversations were recorded.

In accordance with federal wiretapping laws, the US attorney in Philadelphia has been notifying people for about a month that agents had, at some point, listened to their phone calls. The letters do not explain what FBI agents were seeking or whom their target may be, and prosecutors will not say. But the letters describe a surveillance effort that dates back at least a year and extended to the mayor's staff, his political allies, and Philadelphia's city-owned airport.

Barbara Grant, a spokeswoman for Mayor John F. Street, confirmed that members of the administration had been called to appear before a federal grand jury. Grant would not identify them.

Street has denied wrongdoing and won reelection in November despite -- or because of -- the investigation, which he has portrayed as a racially motivated attempt by the Justice Department to embarrass a black politician.

One person who received a notification letter, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it confirmed that in addition to the listening device in the mayor's office, wiretaps had been placed on a phone in the city's finance department, a wireless phone leased to an airport official, and in the office of Ronald A. White, a politically connected lawyer. The letter said the tap on White's phone was in place last winter, the person said.

The listening device in Street's office had been in place for a few weeks before it was found by police Oct. 7 in what city officials described as a routine sweep.

A person with knowledge of airport phone records, who also spoke on the condition his name not be used, said the tapped wireless phone was used by the deputy aviation director, Jim Tyrrell.

The Philadelphia Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the tapped phone in the city's finance department was in the office of City Treasurer Corey Kemp, who abruptly resigned in November.

Lawyers for Kemp and White would not discuss the probe. Tyrrell declined through an airport spokesman to be interviewed.

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