Lobbyist's name left off list of solicitation arrests
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The name of a prominent West Virginia lobbyist and former high-ranking government official arrested for allegedly soliciting a prostitute was not included with names of others arrested on similar charges in a Charleston Police Department press release.
Phil Reale, a lobbyist and a chief of staff to former Gov. Gaston Caperton, was arrested July 11 on a solicitation charge. The arrest was part of a prostitution sting conducted by Charleston Police and other agencies.
Five were arrested in the sting, according to a July 12 press release issued by the Charleston Police Department.
Their names were included in the release. Reale's was not.
At the time, Sgt. Bobby Eggleton was the commander of the Special Enforcement Unit within the Charleston Police Department. His unit conducted the sting.
Eggleton said he intentionally left Reale's name off the press release.
"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," Eggleton said in a phone interview Monday.
He said in his 20 years as a police officer he'd never seen anyone so distraught over an alleged misdemeanor. He considered calling for paramedics, but did not. Eggleton said Reale thanked him for "talking me off the ledge."
The charge against Reale was dismissed without prejudice Aug. 13. That means the case could come up again if Reale finds himself in legal trouble again in the next year, Charleston City Attorney Paul Ellis said.
Ellis and Eggleton said there was no special treatment given to Reale.
Reale denies he tried to solicit a prostitute. He said he didn't know there was a press release or that his name had been omitted from one.
"I don't know anything about that, honestly," Reale said Monday evening.
Reale spoke Monday evening with the Daily Mail, accompanied by George Manahan, head of the Charleston-based public relations company The Manahan Group.
After leading Caperton's gubernatorial transition team, Reale was appointed the governor's chief of staff in January 1989. He also managed Caperton's re-election campaign.
He would later become a well-known lobbyist.
Reale has lobbied for the oil and gas industries, pharmaceutical, health care and insurance companies, the greyhound and horse racing industries and the press.
According to his company's website, some of his current clients include the Independent Oil & Gas Association, pharmaceutical company PhRMA, health care company Health Management Systems, the Clay Center, the West Virginia Kennel Owners Association and the West Virginia Press Association.
Eggleton and Ellis said to the best of their knowledge, they had never met Reale before this case and did not know anything about his job or career at the time of his arrest. Reale also said Monday he'd never met either man before the arrest.
Reale said he was emotional at times in his conversations with Eggleton and Ellis.
"It's not the innocence or guilt of this as much as it is the adverse public notoriety that goes with it," he said.
On the evening of July 11, Reale said he was driving to the Berry Hills Country Club to hit golf balls. On the way, he said he noticed a woman standing on the corner of Washington and Beatrice streets, on Charleston's West Side.
"My first inclination was that she needed assistance," Reale said in a prepared statement to the Daily Mail.
"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 woman asked Reale to meet her on 7th Avenue to continue talking, according to the statement. Reale didn't follow, returning to his route to the country club, he said.
At this point, he was pulled over and arrested for attempted solicitation, Reale said.
Neither Ellis nor Eggleton discussed whether Reale was guilty or innocent.
Reale was arrested and booked following normal procedure, Eggleton said.
After the arrest, Reale came to Ellis "hat in hand," Ellis said. They talked about the case and Reale's life. Ellis said Reale told him he was going through personal issues and was seeking help.
"He provided me with evidence that he was receiving professional counseling for the issues he was dealing with," Ellis said.
Ellis said the evidence appeared genuine and helped convince him that Reale was sincere in his efforts to seek help. Neither Ellis nor Reale would elaborate on the nature of those issues.
Reale has no other charges on his criminal record, Ellis said. It's common for a prosecutor to promote rehabilitation, he said.
"We're always in favor of trying to help people get help for issues they're experiencing," Ellis said.
Ellis and Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster both said they didn't know about the press release.
Eggleton said he did not contact Webster or anyone else with the city before leaving Reale's name off the release.
"At the end of the day, I'm the one who has to lay down and think what's best for everybody involved," Eggleton said.
Eggleton said he has decided in the past not to issue press releases when he thought there could be negative ramifications. He could not immediately remember a time when he had left a name off a press release that included others charged with a similar crime.
To the best of his knowledge, Ellis said the other five accused did not approach his office. Two cases were dismissed, one pleaded guilty and two are still going through the judicial process, Ellis said.
Ellis and Eggleton were adamant Reale was treated like anyone else.
"I've done this for a long time. I believe it's always served me well to try and go with my heart," Eggleton said.
"The right thing may not always be the correct thing."
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones, who oversees the police department and every other city agency, is concerned about the situation. He said he only recently learned of Reale's arrest.
He said Eggleton is a good police officer, but he wished Eggleton had told him about the situation.
"I think it's special treatment because he thought he was suicidal," Jones said.
"It just doesn't look good. Perception, unfortunately, tends to be reality."
Jones discussed the situation further on Tuesday morning, when he requested that the charges against Reale be re-filed.