A former chief of staff for a U.S. senator who crashed a Chilmark fundraiser for then-Presidential candidate John Edwards in August pleaded guilty last Wednesday to two charges of trespass and a misdemeanor charge of breaking and entering and was sentenced to two years probation in Edgartown district court.
The Hon. John Julian agreed to continue charges against Michael Duga, 31, of Coral Springs, Fla., for two years on the condition he pay $252 in related court fees and comply with the terms of his probation. As part of the agreement, a charge of possession of a marijuana and larceny were dropped, while a felony charge of breaking and entering during the daytime was amended to a misdemeanor count of breaking and entering.
According to Chilmark police, Mr. Duga used a press credential identifying him as the chief of staff for former U.S. Senator Maxwell Cleland of Georgia on Aug. 25 to gain access to a fundraiser for Mr. Edwards at the Chilmark home of Alex MacDonald.
Once inside, Mr. Duga reportedly worked at a table where tickets were being sold, although he was not a member of the Edwards campaign.
The next morning, Chilmark police arrested Mr. Duga at the Menemsha Coast Guard Station after officials called to report a suspicious person on their property. Coast Guard officials said Mr. Duga was looking through paperwork and made telephone calls from the Coast Guard boat house without permission.
When police questioned Mr. Duga, he said he was volunteering for the Edwards campaign. Questioned about his presence on U.S. Coast Guard property, Mr. Duga said he wished to notify the Coast Guard commander of several security deficiencies he had observed, police said.
When police searched Mr. Duga’s vehicle they reportedly found several documents from the Edwards campaign, including a computer-printed itinerary of event stops with times and locations, and documents that included the names of campaign team members, their cell phone numbers, and hotel room assignments.
Police also found a government identification Mr. Duga reportedly stole from a barracks at the Coast Guard station. As part of the terms of his probation, Mr. Duga is required to stay away from all Coast Guard properties on Martha’s Vineyard.
News of Mr. Duga’s arrest, first reported by the Gazette, made national headlines and was featured in several nationally televised news broadcasts. Mr. Cleland lost his bid for reelection to the U.S. senate in 2002 and has since served as a member of the federal 9/11 commission and as an aide to U.S. Senator John Kerry during his 2004 presidential campaign.
Mr. Cleland promptly suspended Mr. Duga without pay following his arrest, and it is unknown if he has since rehired his former chief of staff. Attempts this week to contact both Mr. Duga and Mr. Cleland were unsuccessful.
In a brief interview with the Gazette following a September court appearance, Mr. Duga said he had been unfairly vilified by the press and he expected to be acquitted of all charges. During his court appearance that same day, however, he also addressed the court and apologized to the Chilmark police department for his actions.