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ELECTION FUNDS SCRUTINIZED IN POST OFFICE PROBE

A federal prosecutor says House Post Office deposits were held back so money would be available to cash "large campaign and personal checks."

The statement, which came Thursday as a former post office official entered a guilty plea in the case, indicated that prosecutors are looking at House campaign organizations in their criminal probe of the mail facility.Joanna G. O'Rourke, the former chief of staff at the House Post Office, pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

O'Rourke, 52, at times appearing to choke back tears, answered the judge's questions in a barely audible voice. As chief of staff, she had wide knowledge of all facets of the post office's operation.

Her plea to charges of embezzlement and misusing public funds made her the first high-ranking post office official to admit criminal wrongdoing, although five lower-level employees previously pleaded guilty to drug and embezzlement charges.

During the past week, prosecutors used an indictment against O'Rourke and Thursday's guilty plea to significantly expand public knowledge about the criminal probe.

The focus of the inquiry by the U.S. attorney's office, the statements showed, has advanced from petty theft and drug dealing to a probe of the post office as a vast favor mill for House members, their staffs and campaign organizations.

Ms. O'Rourke was released on personal recognizance pending a Dec. 9 sentencing on the two misdemeanor counts.