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Feds target gay
Iowan senator

Feds target gay
Iowan senator


A state senator from Iowa defends his innocence after a federal probe finds he may have had a hand in a case of extortion.

Iowa's highest ranking openly gay elected official has been indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice for extortion, facing fines up to $250,000 and 20 years in prison. State Senator Matt McCoy, 41, allegedly attempted to obtain $100 for each installation of a home security system from an ADT dealership in Des Moines, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The motion-sensor system, called QuietCare, is placed in senior citizens' homes to keep track of their safety. According to the indictment, McCoy collected about $2,000 from the company between Dec. 29, 2005, and March 24, 2006.

A clear target

McCoy, who was outed on the senate floor in 2003 by ultraconservative Republican Senator Ken Veenstra, has been reelected several times since first winning his state House seat in 1992. Veenstra lost his bid for reelection in 2004 after outing his colleague, as did several other antigay Iowa officials.

"Since coming out as an openly gay man," McCoy said, "I have been a continuous target of groups targeting gays to advance their own agendas of intolerance and hate. Clearly, there is significant speculation about what has motivated federal officials to take this action against me."

The senator says that U.S. Attorney Matthew Whitaker, an admitted conservative, targeted him to show his conservative loyalty to the Bush administration in the wake of the U.S. Attorney firings by the Department of Justice. McCoy is an outspoken advocate for gay rights issues, including an efforts to defeat a proposed gay marriage ban as well as to confirm an openly gay man to the state's Board of Education and also to ensure a $400,000 allocation to provide drugs for AIDS patients. McCoy has successfully pushed an anti-bullying law in public schools and antidiscrimination laws for LGBT people in housing and the workplace.

Local observer David Yepsen noted the unique circumstances of the case. "[T]he indictment was unprecedented and is full of political wrinkles," he wrote in a March 15 Des Moines Register column. "Old-timers at the Statehouse say that although legislators have been charged with state misdemeanors, they can't recall a sitting legislator being indicted by the federal government."

15-month investigation

Two FBI agents arrived on McCoy's doorstep at 6:30 a.m. in April 2006; this was his first notification that he was under federal scrutiny. The Department of Justice had begun its investigation four months prior by reading e-mails, listening to telephone conversations, scouring bank records, and by questioning friends and colleagues.

McCoy said that Whitaker approved the secret taping of McCoy's conversations with an acquaintance he'd met at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

"We do not know how they came to investigate me," McCoy said. "We believe that at some point an individual I was looking at going into business with got involved with [federal investigators] because they were jealous or in trouble. This person had a history of some petty crimes and issues related to drugs and alcohol, which I was aware of while we were discussing going into business together."

After exploration, the FBI brought evidence of extortion to Whitaker through 12 hours of recorded discussions. McCoy said that after he and his legal counsel reviewed the tapes, it's nearly impossible to extract any evidence of extortion. "What they've done is taken these tapes and parsed them together, to somehow speculate that this whole attempted extortion revolved around this conversation."

Facing the gavel

In the wake of the indictment, the Polk County (Iowa) Democratic Central Committee voted overwhelmingly to approve a resolution stating their support and confidence in McCoy.

"Senator McCoy has served the state of Iowa in an impeccable manner." Polk County Democratic chairman Tom Henderson said in a statement. "Matt has always been willing to assist those in need, whether it is assisting his constituents with their problems or providing for needed health care programs for our less fortunate."

McCoy says that he is looking forward to his day in court to clear his name. To do so has already cost him $65,000 in attorney fees and for hiring a private investigator. He expects the total bill to reach $100,000 by the time the trial is over. A trial has been scheduled for early October.

"I've served two terms in the house, and this is my third term in the senate," McCoy said. "In all my years of elected office, I've never seen anything like this."

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