Levy tip a hoax, investigators say
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A tip about the whereabouts of missing intern Chandra Levy was a hoax, investigators said Thursday.
The tip, phoned in to a toll-free hot line run by a California firm, told authorities that Levy's body could be found near Fort Lee, an Army post near Petersburg, Virginia. But a high-level law enforcement source with direct knowledge of the investigation called the tip a "hoax," and the FBI said the information doesn't match the facts.
"The FBI, in concert with Fort Lee officials, have determined that there is no site on or around the Fort Lee military base that corresponds with the information provided in the anonymous tip," said a statement released by the FBI's office in Richmond, Virginia.
The tip caught investigators' attention because of the level of detail it provided, and it briefly made Fort Lee, about 116 miles south of Washington, the focus of intense attention from news outlets. But subsequent investigation determined those details did not match any site around the Army post.
Levy, 24, has been missing since the end of April. The tip sparked new interest in the case, but Washington police had stressed it was just one of dozens they receive each day. So far, none of those has produced a solid lead in what authorities have called a frustrating case.
California-based WeTip received the information from a caller and passed it Tuesday to police in Washington, who then relayed it to authorities at Fort Lee. The group claims nearly 15,000 arrests have resulted from about 343,000 tips it has received since 1972.
"It could have come from a mentally disturbed person who just likes to use the telephone," WeTip CEO Bill Brownell told CNN. "WeTip doesn't do an evaluation of the tip even if it's a very bad-looking tip. It might be just exactly what law enforcement's looking for."
Late Wednesday, the FBI had said it would first attempt to evaluate the credibility of the tip before searching the grounds of Fort Lee. Authorities and others familiar with missing person cases had urged caution, noting that most such tips never lead to anything.
"There are a number of challenges here, the first thing that we have to recognize is that there are a lot of evil, mean, despicable people in America that have fun doing this type of dirty deed ... a false tip," said Peter Banks of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Levy's case has received widespread attention because of her relationship with Rep. Gary Condit, D-California. Her family has said she was having an affair with the married 53-year-old congressman. Publicly, he has acknowledged only a friendship, although police sources said he admitted to a romantic relationship in an interview with police.
Police said they are treating Levy's disappearance as a missing person case and have long said there is no evidence of a crime, so there are no suspects. Recently, police said Condit was not the "central figure" in the investigation.
Levy was last seen April 30 at a Washington gym as she canceled her membership. Tuesday, a key maker at a hardware store across the street from her apartment told the FBI and police that he saw Levy during the week after April 30, when she had come into the store and had keys made. Authorities are still checking out his information.
A spokesman for the Levy family said the tip and frenzy that surrounded it amounted to an emotional "roller coaster." Kim Petersen, executive director of the Sund/Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation, also said the Levy family was told "there's nothing to" the tip.
"Hearing things like you did yesterday is difficult," she told reporters outside the Levy family home in Modesto, California. "You can't just shut those things out."
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