Larry Craig

Sen. Craig's case was handled differently, records show

MINNEAPOLIS — Details of Sen. Larry Craig's arrest on suspicion of lewd conduct at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport shocked his colleagues and constituents, but he was not the only person ensnarled in the airport's police sting against suspected lewd conduct in the restroom.

Thirty-nine other men were arrested here in a three-month period. A review of their cases and interviews with lawyers representing many of the suspects show how Craig — who pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct but now says he is innocent — fits into the larger picture of the sting operation, and sheds light on the Idaho Republican's prospects in court should he be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea.

Police and court files indicate Craig's case may have been handled more harshly than some of the others. For instance, he alone among the 40 men arrested was charged with both disorderly conduct and interference with privacy. The other men were charged with one or the other, or with indecent exposure or loitering.

Airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said Craig was the only man charged with two offenses because he had peered into the police officer's stall and had used unspoken signals — foot tapping and hand motions — known as ways to solicit restroom sex. Craig, who insists he is not gay, said his actions were misinterpreted.

Lawyers for many of the other 39 men said they are contesting the charges against their clients, and that Craig, too, could have mounted a vigorous defense if he had hired a lawyer instead of pleading guilty to one charge.

Craig, who passed through the Minneapolis terminal regularly as he traveled between Boise and Washington, D.C., initially was one of 20 men who were charged with interference with privacy, a gross misdemeanor with a penalty of up to a year in jail.

Jeffrey Dean, a lawyer defending four of the men, said: "There can be no invasion of privacy of a person who is inviting the conduct. The undercover officer, by his own account, sits there in an adjacent stall and signals the person that he wants this contact."

The disorderly conduct charge to which Craig pleaded guilty is a lesser offense with a suspended sentence, a $500 fine and probation. So far, 10 of the men arrested in the bathroom have pleaded guilty to various charges. No trials have been scheduled, and none of the men has had charges dismissed, although two were given "suspended prosecution" in which their records may be expunged after a year.

Robert J. Shane, a lawyer for a man who got a suspended prosecution, said: "If Craig would have had an attorney, I think he could have got that type of agreement."

Jerome A. Burg, a lawyer for another suspect, said after reviewing Craig's police reports: "I don't think he had violated the law yet. I think the officer jumped the gun."

Craig's actions on June 11, as described by the police, were less blatant than those of some men who received lesser charges.

For instance, a Wisconsin man, 49, had signaled an officer to enter an adjacent stall, tapped his foot, reached under the divider to touch the officer's leg and looked over the divider. He got one charge of interference with privacy.

A Wyoming man, 45, exposed himself in addition to other actions, and told police he had had sex there before. But he was only charged with disorderly conduct.