Former Senator Max Cleland has suspended his chief of staff after the man was accused of breaking into a Coast Guard station after crashing a John Edwards fund-raiser nearby on Martha's Vineyard.
Michael Duga Jr., 31, of Coral Springs, Fla., was released on $2,500 bail after pleading not guilty Monday in Edgartown District Court to charges including marijuana possession and breaking into the Menemsha Coast Guard Station.
Duga has an "extensive criminal history" in Florida, including carjacking and drug possession and dealing, according to a police report from the Chilmark Police Department on Martha's Vineyard.
Cleland, a Democrat from Georgia, said yesterday that he put Duga on unpaid leave and was not aware of Duga's criminal record.
"I trusted him, and he had a clean record, as far as I knew," Cleland said. "But now some things are coming out. But I want to reserve final judgment until all the facts are in."
Reached yesterday, Duga said, "I have the utmost respect for Senator Cleland and will continue to do so throughout his life. He is an American hero to me."
He declined to comment further.
According to the police report, Duga was dropped off Friday at the fund-raiser at the Chilmark home of Alex MacDonald.
Duga told Chilmark police Officer Blaze Montelo, who was on a traffic detail, that he was working with Edwards's campaign committee.
He showed a photo and card indicating he was Cleland's chief of staff.
Duga worked a front table where people bought tickets for the fund-raiser and accepted a gift for Edwards's wife, Elizabeth, Montelo said.
"We cannot comment any further, as this is a security issue and pending investigation," Edwards's spokeswoman Colleen Murray said in a statement.
On Saturday morning, police were dispatched to the Menemsha Coast guard station, where they found Duga, who the Coast Guard said had entered the building without permission.
Police said they later found marijuana in the sport utility vehicle Duga was using.