CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A prominent West Virginia lobbyist caught up in an undercover prostitution sting should have been identified along with the others who were arrested, and police should refile the charge against him, Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said Tuesday.
Jones told media outlets that he doesn't believe politics were at play, but lobbyist Phil Reale should be treated the same as anyone else under the law. Reale, a Charleston attorney, was chief of staff under former Gov. Gaston Caperton.
The Charleston Daily Mail (http://bit.ly/19DP4eM) was first to report the omission in a July press release about an undercover prostitution sting. Reale was not named among the suspects, and charges were dismissed against him Aug. 13.
Jones, whose own son has been in trouble with the law over drugs, said he has instructed City Attorney Paul Ellis and Charleston police to treat everyone equally.
"Leaving that name off that press release was a real mistake," the mayor said. "It shouldn't have been done, and it won't happen again."
Police Chief Brent Webster called the incident a lesson learned.
"We want the information to be accurate," he said. "We're going to take this as an opportunity to look at our whole media policy."
Reale has denied wrongdoing. He told the Daily Mail in a prepared statement that he approached a woman he thought needed assistance while traveling to a country club and left when he learned she was "propositioning people."
The city attorney also denied acting improperly.
"I've never met Phil Reale," Ellis said. "I don't know Phil Reale. I treated him like I would anybody else under the circumstances."
Ellis said it's not unusual to divert nonviolent criminal cases, and that his staff considers factors including whether the defendant has a criminal history and whether the person cooperated with police.
"We're not out to try to destroy people," Ellis said. "If ... they're willing to go out and get some help, we're willing to work with them."
Webster said the sergeant who handled Reale's case was concerned about the possibility of suicide and was not acting out of favoritism.
Jones said he would not try to punish the officer but expressed skepticism about Reale's story.
"If he's going down Washington to Berry Hills (Country Club)," he said, "he's taking the scenic route."
Jones said the audio from the incident is damning. But he declined to release the incident report, citing the ongoing investigation.
"This is a pretty simple case," he said. "Phil's gone into a state of denial."
Though he wants the charges refiled, Jones said he doesn't believe anyone should go to jail for a first offense. He said fines are an appropriate punishment.
Information from: Charleston Daily Mail, http://www.dailymail.com