CHARLESTON – The name of a powerful legislative lobbyist has emerged from a July prostitution sting in Charleston.
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones held a hastily-called 10 a.m. press conference at City Hall in an attempt to explain how news of Philip A. Reale’s arrest on solicitation of prostitution charges escaped public notice for more than two months.
Jones said he was “embarrassed” at the lapse and said his administration has constantly supported transparency in government. “Whether it’s Danny Jones, Zack Jones (the Mayor’s son who was arrested on drug-related charges) or Phil Reale, everyone deserves to be treated the same,” said Jones.
Reale, former Governor Gaston Caperton’s Chief of Staff and former State Democrat Chairman, has some of the biggest organizations involved in legislative lobbying as his clients. Included in the list is the West Virginia Press Association. Reale also represents the Beer Wholesalers, the Clay Center, Health Management Systems, Inc., Humana, the International Oil and Gas Association, Visa USA, Wells Fargo Insurance Services, the West Virginia Kennel Owners Association and numerous smaller groups.
Jones said he was particularly upset that Reale chose to visit the Charleston Daily Mail offices when the newspaper called to ask him about the arrest. Reale, accompanied by public relations specialist George Manahan, told the Daily Mail he was on his way to Berry Hills County Club when he encountered the female involved in the arrest. The charge was a part of a prostitution sting conducted by the Charleston Police Department and other agencies.
The police department issued a press release on July 12 regarding the sting and listed five individuals as being charged. They did not include Reale’s name.
At the time, Sergeant Bobby Eggleton was commander of the Special Enforcement Unit with the CPD. His unit conducted the sting and Eggleton told reporters he intentionally left Reale’s name off the release.
“That was, pure and simple, a mistake,” said the Mayor. “They should either have listed everybody or not issued a press release at all. I can guarantee you it won’t happen again.”
There was also some question when the arrest came to light last week about the spelling of Reale’s name. On the ticket, it appears the officer wrote, “Neale” rather than “Reale” but Jones said he had not seen the citation and could not comment on it.
The Mayor did say, however, “I have read the police report. What Phil told the Daily Mail is just not what happened. It’s a simple case.”
Jones pointed out that, while Reale said he was going to Berry Hills Country Club on Davis Creek, he was actually on the West Side. “He turned onto Beatrice Street, which is a dead end, after encountering the alleged prostitute,” said the Mayor. “If he was headed to Berry Hills, he was sure taking the scenic route to get there.”
Eggleton told reporters he consulted with City Attorney Paul Ellis before deciding not to list Reale in the press release. He said both he and Ellis decided Reale was distraught and suicidal and no purpose would be served in listing him. He said Reale told the city officials he was undergoing “treatment for a problem.”
But Jones said that was simply not good enough. “Bobby Eggleton is one of my favorite officers and one of the best officers the city has,” said the Mayor. “But he made a mistake this time and I think he now knows it.”
Jones said, after reading the police report, “My instructions were clear. I want the charges refiled and this case will go through the system properly.”
The Mayor said after Reale was arrested, the charges were eventually dropped “without prejudice” meaning they can be refiled.
“One question I had was why I didn’t hear about this until last Thursday,” said Jones. “I would have thought I would have although maybe that’s not required.”
Jones said, “I can say, based on the Daily Mail interview, that Phil is in a state of denial. That’s not a good place to be. He would have better off not to have said anything to them.”
Although Jones said he believes Eggleton now realizes his mistake, the officer told the Daily Mail on Monday, “If it happened again tomorrow, I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same thing on him or anybody else I thought was suicidal.”
Jones said he had held “discussions” with members of the police department and city attorney’s office explaining, “If people figures out this works to get charges dropped, everybody will be lined up with a sad story.” He did not say if he had specifically spoken with Eggleton.
Ellis and Eggleton insisted Reale was given no special treatment. For his part, Reale said he did not know his name was omitted from the press release.
Eggleton and Ellis said to the best of their knowledge, they had never met Reale before this matter came up. They said they did not know anything about his job or career at the time of the arrest. Reale confirmed he had never met either man before.
“It’s not the innocence or guilt of this as much as it is the adverse public notoriety that goes with it,” Reale told the Daily Mail.
Reale maintained in a written statement that “my first inclination was that she needed assistance,” in reference to the alleged prostitute. “When she approached my car, I was shocked to learn that she was a prostitute. I immediately declined her offer, but made a nervous, flippant response.”
The Mayor called Reale’s account “simply inaccurate. That’s not what happened as anyone can see from the report.” Jones said the police department is trying to determine if it has audio evidence concerning the arrest as well.
“This will be handled correctly and the public can be assured of it,” said the Mayor.
— Ron Gregory can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org