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Levy case opens door on secret life

The search for missing former intern Chandra Levy has focused the spotlight on U.S. Rep. Gary Condit.  

(CNN) -- Until the disappearance of former intern Chandra Levy, U.S. Rep. Gary Condit was a name probably few people outside California's 18th District had ever heard before.

The California Democrat, who has served in Congress since 1989, has become the nexus of a media frenzy surrounding the young woman's disappearance and the subsequent discovery of her body in a Washington park.

Levy, 24, a former Federal Bureau of Prisons intern, was reported last seen at a Washington health club April 30, 2001. Soon after, rumors spread that Condit and Levy were having an affair. Condit publicly has acknowledged only a friendship with Levy, although police sources said he admitted that the two did have a romantic relationship.

Over the next 13 months, Condit remained high in the media spotlight surrounding the case, while police investigators continued to search for clues.

On May 22, 2002, a man walking his dog in Rock Creek Park, an area where Levy was known to go jogging, reported finding a skull. Dental records later confirmed that the skeletal remains were Levy's. The mystery of her death remains unsolved.

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Most Intriguing 2001: Gary Condit
Missing women
TIME: Person of the Week -- Gary Condit
Fellow Blue Dog Dem scolds Condit
Message board: The case of the missing intern
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House of Representatives: Gary Condit
The Modesto Bee: The Search for Chandra Levy

Robert and Susan Levy, the missing woman's parents, said in earlier interviews they believe Condit lied earlier about his relationship with their daughter and that he still may be a key player in the investigation.

"I don't feel he has been very truthful to me. And I think someone out there knows where my daughter is," Susan Levy said.

Two and a half months after the disappearance, Condit took a polygraph test administered privately by a former FBI agent. Condit's attorney, Abbe Lowell, said the congressman passed the test and therefore did not know anything about Chandra Levy's disappearance.

District of Columbia police repeatedly said Condit is not a suspect, but national media attention on the congressman, Levy's hometown representative, has not ceased.

"It's just an incredible lesson that you need to tell the truth. And if you don't tell the truth, then everything else you say is called into question," said U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Connecticut.

A minister's son from Oklahoma

The son of a Baptist minister, Condit (right) spent his early childhood in Woodland Junction, Oklahoma.  

Gary A. Condit was born April 21, 1948, in Woodland Junction, Oklahoma, near Salina to Jean and the Rev. Adrian Condit.

"Woodland Junction was just basically a small country store," said Condit's cousin Carol June Back. "The only thing else that was there was a school and Little Rock Church. That was it."

Little Rock Church, where Condit's father preached to the town's Baptist congregation, was a second home for the family. The Condits, including Gary's two brothers and a sister, went to church regularly, four times a week.

When Condit was 14, his family moved to Tulsa, a city that offered more opportunity for his father. The family lived in a house next door to the church where Condit's dad preached. Condit attended Nathan Hale High School in Tulsa.

At school, Condit met future wife Carolyn Berry, a member of the pep squad. The sweethearts were both 18 when they married January 18, 1967. The couple had their first child, son Chad, in July.

During the same year, Condit's father ventured west to California in search of a new congregation. He became pastor of the Village Chapel Free Will Baptist Church in Ceres, California, a sleepy town 100 miles east of San Francisco.

In 1972, Condit received his bachelor's degree from nearby California State University in Stanislaus.

After a stint in a public relations firm, Condit decided to run for local office and won election to the Ceres City Council.

"Gary Condit is almost a mini-God here in the political sense," said Jeff Benziger, editor of the Ceres Courier. "He has that reputation of being the hometown boy that made good."

The City Council agreed with this sentiment, and two years later Condit became mayor -- one of the youngest in California history. Soon after, he became a father for the second time when daughter Cadee was born in 1975.

'Proud of our local boy'

In 1995, Condit co-founded the Blue Dog Democrats, a group of House conservatives who often vote with the GOP on issues.  

The young politician rose fast, joining the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors and eventually the California Assembly by the time he was 35.

"Gary was always consistent," said Charles Calderon, a Los Angeles lawyer who was a freshman with Condit in the Assembly. "He was fiercely loyal to the (San Joaquin Valley) and proud of the valley, and he spent more of his time on constituent issues in his district that he ever did introducing legislation on other big policy issues in the House."

In the mid-1980s, Condit and Calderon partnered with three other moderate Democrats, whom the press dubbed the "Gang of Five." They gained notoriety by trying to push policy in a more centrist direction and openly challenged the leadership of the Assembly's powerful speaker, Willie Brown.

"The left had a litmus test. The right had a litmus test. And we didn't fit into that," Calderon said. "We just got tired of not being able to solve problems and not find solutions."

The group was unsuccessful in its attempt to overthrow Brown. Members lost leadership positions, choice committee assignments and other advantages.

But Condit's power and influence translated outside the Assembly's halls. He was a failure among the Democratic leadership in Sacramento, but back home, Condit was considered courageous and honorable.

Seizing his momentum, Condit ran for Congress in a special election in 1989. Incumbent Rep. Tony Coelho resigned under a cloud of financial scandal, and Condit ran successfully to replace him.

As a conservative Democrat, he found friends in Washington. He formed the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of 20-plus Democrats who often cross party lines to support Republican-sponsored bills.

In 1994, suspicions arose that Condit might switch parties when the GOP took control of Congress, but he remained a Democrat.

Over the years, he has fought hard to balance the budget and voiced strong beliefs on welfare legislation. Condit even accepted an appointment in 1995 by then-GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich to a conference committee on unfunded federal mandates after Democratic House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt refused to support a bill Condit favored.

"People are very proud of our local boy who went to Congress," said Sandra Lucas, a Stanislaus County official. "They feel they know him."

Levy's disappearance raises questions

Condit, with wife Carolyn and daughter Cadee on a Christmas card, had a reputation as a family man in his conservative California district.  

On April 30, 2001, President George W. Bush marked 100 days in office, and Condit's political fortunes were riding high. The Blue Dog Democrat was one of the pillars in the new administration's plan to build bipartisanship.

Within days, the congressman's political life began to unravel.

News of Levy's disappearance was first reported in The Washington Post on May 11. The seven-paragraph article focused simply on a missing person, with no mention of Condit.

A few days later a Washington TV news station reported that the District of Columbia police had questioned a California congressman about his connection with the missing woman.

Within no time, rumors swirled about Condit's relationship with Levy. Contacted by her parents for help, Condit pledged $10,000 in reward money and released a statement describing Levy as "a great person and a good friend."

Six weeks after Levy disappeared, Condit had become the center of intense media interest. Faced with mounting questions, Condit's staff denied a romantic relationship with Levy.

Problems intensified in early July when United Airlines flight attendant Anne Marie Smith alleged she had an 11-month affair with the congressman.

Smith said Condit asked her to sign an affidavit denying the relationship and that he urged her not to talk to the FBI following Levy's disappearance. Condit later denied the allegations but has not denied the affair.

On July 6, Levy's aunt, Linda Zamsky, issued a statement saying her niece confided in her that she and Condit were having an affair. Within 24 hours, Condit met with police for a third time, and police sources said he admitted having a romantic relationship with Levy.

Condit's handlers portray the politician as fully cooperating with the Levy investigation.

"The congressman will provide whatever additional information he can, including access to his apartment, telephone, cell phone records and to his staff," said Condit's attorney, Lowell, on July 9.

Condit agreed to let investigators search his apartment, but hours before the search, police said he was spotted throwing out a gift box he had received from another woman -- another public relations setback.

"Sooner or later, the truth is going to come out," said Dick Thornburgh, former U.S. attorney general. "And I think unfortunately all Congressman Condit has done here is create an impression that he is unwilling to cooperate with authorities, which in turn, leads to a suspicion of some kind of culpability."

The scandal prompted some pundits to dismiss Condit's future in politics.

"His political career is over as far as elective office is concerned. You can forget it," said Stuart Rothenberg, a CNN political analyst.

Before the 2002 election friends in California said that if former President Bill Clinton survived Monica Lewinsky, then it is far too early to write Condit's political obituary.

"I think things are going to change with Gary," Calderon said. "He's very well-liked in his district. He's loved in his district. They're not going to abandon him just because of all these stories."

But unable to escape the political fallout of his relationship with Levy, Condit lost the March 5 Democratic primary by a wide margin to state Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza .

Before the initial results were in, Condit spoke to reporters outside his home, thanking the voters and speaking fondly about his seven terms in office representing California's 18th Congressional District.

"It's been a great opportunity to be in public service and represent (the voters) ... and I'll never forget it," Condit said, with his family and campaign volunteers behind him. "I'm going to work hard the remaining time that I have there and do everything I can do to make the valley a better place to be."

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