Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Congressional Sex Scandals

Scandal Erupts

Mark Foley's carefully constructed world began to unravel in May 2003 after an alternative weekly paper in Florida reported that the Congressman was gay. The New York Times and other publications picked up on the story, asking questions about his sexual orientation. Foley called a press conference to refute the charges, which he called "revolting," but said his orientation was unimportant. He didn't specifically deny the rumors. The attention did seem to lead him to drop his bid for the Senate, saying that his father's cancer diagnosis made him to want to spend time with his family.

Then in August 2005, an email conversation between Foley and a 16-year-old page was forwarded to the office of Democratic Representative Rodney Alexander of Louisiana. In the exchange, Foley asked the boy what he liked to do in his free time, requests a picture of the boy and compliments another teenager's excellent physique. The page found the exchange "sick," according to Vanity Fair and wanted Alexander's office to know what had transpired.

While not explicit in the manner of earlier text conversations, the email exchange raised enough concern that by late 2005 the emails found their way to two Florida newspapers, the St. Petersburg Times and the Miami Herald. The St. Petersburg Times called Alexander's office about the email, but never got far enough to do a story. The two newspapers decided the email was too ambiguous to report, as did Fox News, which had also received the emails. The media attention, however, sent red flags up about Foley to his colleagues.

Illinois Republican Representative John Shimkus, the head of the House Page Board, which oversees the page program, confronted Foley in his office about the email.

"Why are you e-mailing kids? Stay away from the kids and stay away from the pages," Shimkus told Foley, according to Vanity Fair. Foley said he was just being friendly and was only acting as a mentor to the boys. But damage was already done, and the email exchange was floating around in cyberspace.

ABC News investigative reporter Brian Ross got hold of the email and published a story on it in September 2006. At first, Foley denied that he'd done anything inappropriate. Confronted by another House member about the time he showed up at the page dorm drunk, Foley said "all kinds of stories are going to come out now," according to Vanity Fair. "You just never know what people are going to say."

Dennis Hastert
Dennis Hastert

But a few days later, with Foley's staff now scrambling to deflect attention from the story, Ross received 36 pages of instant messages between Foley and former pages, including the exchange with the high school senior who complained about being sore from waltzing. Foley broke down when he was confronted with the exchanges, and admitted to Fordham that they were real. With news of the new instant messages about to be reported by ABC, Foley's resignation was demanded by Hastert. The Florida representative went along, handing in his resignation to Hastert as well as then-Governor of Florida Jeb Bush.

"I am deeply sorry and I apologize for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to serve," Foley said in a statement. After more pages came forward to say they had had similar exchanges with Foley it became known that he was warned about he conduct by the House Clerk and other House Republicans. Foley insisted he wasn't a pedophile and that he had never had any sexual contact with any of the pages. He said he had a drinking problem and was intoxicated many times when he sent the instant messages. After he resigned he checked himself into the Sierra Tucson rehabilitation center in Arizona to be treated for alcoholism and sexual compulsion.

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