PHILADELPHIA - A gun- control activist who championed the cause for more than a decade and was on the boards of two anti-violence groups is suspected of working as a paid spy for the National Rifle Association, and now those organizations are expelling her and sweeping their offices for bugs.
The suggestion that Mary Lou McFate was a double agent is contained in a deposition filed as part of a contract dispute involving a security firm. The magazine Mother Jones, in a story last week, was the first to report on McFate's alleged dual identity.
The NRA declined to comment to the magazine and did not respond to calls yesterday from the Associated Press. Nor did McFate.
The 62-year-old former flight attendant and sex counselor from Sarasota, Fla., is not new to the world of informants.
She infiltrated an animal-rights group in the late 1980s at the request of US Surgical, and befriended an activist who was later convicted in a pipe bomb attack against the medical-supply business, US Surgical acknowledged in news reports at the time. US Surgical had come under fire for using dogs for research and training.
McFate resurfaced in Pennsylvania and has since spent years as an unpaid board member of CeaseFirePA and an organization called States United to Prevent Gun Violence. She also twice pushed unsuccessfully to join the board of the nation's largest gun-control group, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
"It raises some real concerns with the tactics of the NRA. If they've got one person, maybe they have more. If they've done this dirty trick, what else have they done?" said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign, which planned to search its offices for listening devices and computer spyware.
The Brady Campaign and other groups said they are also researching whether McFate's alleged spying constituted a crime.
"Under some circumstances, it could be trespass," said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a former prosecutor. But "if they're open meetings, it may be underhanded and sneaky; it may not be illegal."
At States United, McFate was federal legislation director, meeting with members of Congress on Capitol Hill.