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Shuster part-time aide admits that he was directed to conduct unethical practices

A part-time office worker of U.S. Congressman Bill Shuster has admitted the congressman and his staff directed him to conduct unethical campaign practices in the Ninth District.
Joshua Juda, a 22-year-old Altoona resident who worked at a Shuster office, claims Shuster and his chief of staff, Alex Mistri, directed him on three separate occasions to spy on Republican candidate Michael DelGrosso, and report back to the incumbent’s camp.
“There are certain levels of intimidation when you work for a U.S. Congressman,” said Juda, in an exclusive interview with The Daily Herald this morning. “They asked me to do things that I didn’t feel comfortable with and I felt given the nature of my involvement, I felt that I should come forward and clarify the record as to what has happened.”
The first public signs of the unethical practices occurred in mid-September when neighbors of DelGrosso noticed a suspicious man in a red Volkswagen Jetta parked in their neighborhood. The residents feared for their safety.
Shuster admitted the person in the Jetta was an employee of his, but denied giving the man any orders to conduct any spying tactics.
Juda claims he was the operator of the red Jetta, and said he was directed by Shuster to travel to DelGrosso’s neighborhood and report back on his daily duties.
“It was Alex (Mistri) who told me to go down and watch his house,” said Juda. “He told me that they thought he wasn’t living there. I thought okay, he’s the boss.”
However, the incident did raise some suspicions with Juda.
Three months earlier, on June 6, Juda said he was directed by Congressman Shuster to monitor a DelGrosso fundraiser at DelGrosso Amusement Park in Tipton. He said he was asked to find out who attended the event and report back to the Shuster Camp.
“I really didn’t think much of it,” said Juda. “An order came directly from the Congressman and I felt that he’s involved in government, he’s a U.S. Congressman, and he would know what was ethical and what you can do and what you can’t in a political office. They just wanted me to go down there and find out what was happening.”
According to Juda, the congressman and his staff again approached him about “spying” on DelGrosso on Sept. 12. Juda said they wanted him to go to DelGrosso’s neighborhood and report back on his daily activities.
“That’s when I kind of thought to myself that there was an odd pattern developing here,” said Juda. “Why do they keep asking me to do this? When they asked me to do these things, they would always say ‘don’t tell anyone about it’ or ‘If anyone sees you, don’t mention anything’.
“They just kept saying things like that, and I thought that was kind of odd. I only worked part-time there and I am by no means familiar with election campaign regulations.”
Juda said after the Sept. 12 incident is when he realized that it was something he didn’t want to be a part of.
“When the media got a hold of the story, both Alex and the Congressman, sent me note saying not to talk about it and not to call anyone about it from the phone lines in the office because of Caller ID,” he said. “They didn’t even want me to mention it in my own office. The Congressman even suggested, the day before I gave my letter of resignation, for me to travel to Harrisburg and get a new vanity plate so people in the community and in DelGrosso’s camp would not recognize my vehicle.”
Juda said each of the three requests of unethical practices were made by both Congressman Shuster and Mistri.
“If this is true, then the implications are very serious,” said DelGrosso this morning. “It is a direct violation of House ethics rules and it could have serious legal consequences. Mr. Shuster and his staff have some serious explaining to do. Congressional staffers – people on the public payroll – should not be engaged in political activities like surveillance.”
In a letter e-mailed to The Daily Herald, Juda writes: “At each occasion, it was my understanding that I was functioning in my capacity as a congressional staff member for which I was being paid through the Congressional payroll. I was not employed by any other outside organization or internal division of Congressman Shuster’s office. I never functioned as a volunteer for the 2004 Shuster Campaign. I was never therefore reprimanded or discouraged from such activity. I was never asked to serve in anyway without pay or as a volunteer outside of my part-time capacity and it was my understanding that all of my activities were covered within my allotted 25 hours per week.
“At the time of these requests and immediately following the state police report, I was also instructed by Congressman Shuster directly not to inform anyone of my activity relative to the observation of Mr. DelGrosso. Further requests were made of me not to use office phones or unsecured lines that could link my observation activities to my official capacity as a congressional staff member.
“I am aware that other staff members in both the district and Washington, D.C. offices knew about and were supportive of the observation campaign of Michael DelGrosso. I never receive formal training or congressional staff manuals outlining rules and regulations governing congressional staff and campaign activities. I am not familiar now was I briefed on any campaign election laws that may apply to such activity. I deferred any ethical or legal issues surrounding these requests to monitor Mr. DelGrosso to senior staff and the Congressman himself.
“I became extremely troubled by this ongoing information gathering campaign of Mr. DelGrosso and deeply disturbed by Congressman Shuster’s response to that campaign. This condition ultimately led to my decision to resign. My decision was completely based on my own conscience and what’s right and wrong.”
Mistri offered a brief statement to The Daily Herald this morning.
“Politics on government time is prohibited in the office of Congressman Shuster. As chief of staff, I strictly enforce this. There was not one penny of taxpayer money spent on this incident. Anything said to the contrary is false.”