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Everything changed when Billy Martin came on the case. The 51-year-old criminal defense lawyer and ex-prosecutor was hired by the parents of former intern Chandra Levy in mid-June. Soon, what had been an understandably chaotic search for a missing young woman morphed into a more focused, more dynamic investigation. In the last two weeks alone, the case has produced bombshell claims about Levy’s relationship to Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif., as well as Condit’s alleged trysts with at least two other women. Working primarily behind the scenes, Martin has used his connections to local cops and prosecutors to push the investigation along. All the while, he has played the public relations game like a master, putting pressure on the police department and, seemingly, on his counterpart and former partner Abbe Lowell, who has the more difficult challenge in representing Condit. “This is classic Billy Martin,” says Nathaniel Speights, a partner at Washington, D.C.’s Speights & Mitchell who worked closely with Martin during the Bill Clinton impeachment scandal. Speights helped to represent Monica Lewinsky; Martin represented her mother, Marcia Lewis. David Schertler, a former chief of the homicide section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and now a criminal defense lawyer with D.C.’s Coburn & Schertler, credits Martin with making the Levy investigation the cops’ top priority. “I think Billy’s done a nice job of prodding the police without coming off too stridently,” Schertler says. Marina Ein, a public relations specialist working with Lowell, disputes Martin’s role in the case. “It has been widely reported that Billy Martin said and did a number of things that put pressure on Congressman Condit. That is simply not true,” Ein says. “What is true is that the congressman, from the beginning, has fully cooperated with police and has reached out to police.” Martin did not return phone calls. Nor did Porter/Novelli, a D.C. public relations firm brought on to assist with the Levy case. INITIAL DENIALS The case of the missing intern first surfaced with news reports May 11. Within days, Robert and Susan Levy flew from their California home to Washington to speak with lawmakers and police officials about their daughter’s disappearance. The matter drew national media attention almost immediately, especially after rumors surfaced that Chandra Levy had had an intimate relationship with the married Democratic congressman from her California district. Through Capitol Hill aides, Condit flatly denied the allegations, saying he and Chandra were merely good friends. The Levys, assisted by officials from the Carole Sund-Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation, a California-based nonprofit that helps families with missing relatives, took to the airwaves. They questioned Condit’s relationship with Chandra and pleaded with him to come forward with more information. Meanwhile, officers with the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department had by this time spoken with Condit, searched Chandra’s Dupont Circle apartment, and interviewed neighbors and friends of the young woman. But when the case wound into June with no real progress and even more media attention, the Levys brought in Martin, a former partner at the D.C. office of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, now at the D.C. office of Dyer Ellis & Joseph. Martin immediately assembled his team, which included former D.C. homicide detectives Dwayne Stanton and Joseph “J.T.” McCann, and former D.C. federal prosecutor Pat Woodward Jr., who was announced as a partner at Dyer Ellis on June 25. TESTING THE LIMITS On June 21, Martin went before the press to announce that he had initiated his own investigation into the disappearance. Later that evening, Susan Levy met with Condit. She was accompanied by Martin. Condit was joined by his lawyer, Lowell, a former partner of Martin’s at Manatt Phelps. The following day, Lowell asserted at a press conference that Condit had been cooperating with police officers since Day One and would continue to do so. Martin later issued a challenge of sorts: Condit should also make himself available to Martin’s team of private investigators. Neither Condit nor Lowell responded publicly to that request. A similar dynamic played itself out over whether Condit should be subjected to a lie detector test. Through a public relations spokesman, the Levy family pushed Condit to agree to a polygraph, arguing that Condit, who in a third interview with police had reportedly admitted an affair with Chandra, had given inconsistent answers. The next day, Lowell announced that Condit would allow a search of his Adams Morgan apartment and would “listen” if police requested a polygraph. Once again, Martin seized the opportunity that his team had orchestrated and tightened the vise on Condit and Lowell. On CNN’s “Larry King Live” that evening, Martin asserted that Condit had lied about the affair and that Condit “needs to correct the misstatements and the untruths. … His credibility is suspect. … [G]etting information from Congressman Condit is like pulling teeth. It comes out only when he’s forced to admit these facts.” Lowell would later say that he was dubious of lie detector tests. “With respect to lie detectors, I know there’s a great public appeal to lie detectors,” he said to the press. “But I know from my own practice that they leave a lot to be desired. If the police call me and tell me that at some point they think that, no matter how suspect it might be, it can be helpful, I will discuss it with them.” News reports said Lowell wanted to limit the scope of any potential polygraph test. Those same reports said police officials were not inclined to allow Lowell to circumscribe any questioning. “The police could have asked Gary Condit to take a lie detector test earlier. The fact is, it was only when Billy and others started criticizing what the police were not doing that things started to change,” says Raymond Banoun, a criminal defense lawyer at the D.C. office of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. On July 13, Lowell held a press conference in which he announced, among other things, that Condit had taken and passed a polygraph test. The test, which he said would be turned over to Federal Bureau of Investigation officials for analysis, was administered not by D.C. police officials, but by a former FBI agent whom Lowell hired and described as a pre-eminent expert in the field. Even then, Lowell’s actions seemed to have been foreshadowed by Martin. On “Larry King Live,” Martin had been asked if he would advise Condit to take a polygraph test, if Condit had been his client. “If he failed, I would never disclose it. But if he passed, I would have it on the front page of every newspaper that would accept it,” said Martin. RECALLING THE PAST Lawyers who know Martin’s work point to several other developments in the case that they say have Martin’s imprint. For example, The Washington Post had reported that a close relative of Chandra Levy’s had details about Levy’s affair with Condit. The newspaper first published such information, quoting the anonymous relative, on June 7, before Martin’s involvement in the case. Condit continued to deny an affair with Levy, and his attorney asked the newspaper to retract the story. His story didn’t change until July 6. On that day, The Post published an article quoting Linda Zamsky, Chandra’s aunt, who detailed what she said Chandra had told her about the affair with Condit. Later that day, police announced they wanted to interview Condit for the third time. During that interview, Condit reportedly admitted a sexual relationship with Levy. While Martin was not involved in the Levy case when the story citing the anonymous relative was first published, the way in which the aunt’s story was ultimately spun out was reminiscent of Martin’s public relations tactics in other matters. “It was teasing at first so that what she said built up momentum, and then she went public,” says a D.C. lawyer who is close to Martin. Perhaps Martin’s greatest success has been his ability to keep — some might say manipulate — the case onto the front pages and into constant rotation on the national news channels. Not that Martin, who has the reputation for smooth-talking the press, will ever admit that. “We would like to thank the press,” he said at the end of “Larry King Live.” “We know that without the coverage that the press has given us both here in Washington, and in the Modesto area, that this story would just be another story with no effort to really find the missing person. The press has really helped put pressure on everybody, both, we believe, Congressman Condit, other witnesses, and all the authorities to do the best that they can. “So the press, we think, has done a very good job keeping this matter alive. And by keeping this matter alive, it will help us, we believe, to learn where Chandra is or what’s happened to her.”

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