While a suspect is finally charged, the ex-congressman "was tarred and feathered," his son tells PEOPLE

By Champ Clark
March 09, 2009 03:00 PM

A suspect finally was arrested in the Chandra Levy murder – and it wasn’t Gary Condit.

But don’t look for any expressions of celebration or vindication from the former California congressman, who faced a relentless media spotlight after it was reported he was having an affair with the Washington DC intern.

“The media took my dad’s name and made something of it that wasn’t,” Condit’s son Chad tells PEOPLE. “He built a reputation over 30 years and in three months that reputation was destroyed. He was tarred and feathered, it’s that simple.”

In the years since Levy’s 2001 disappearance, Condit has kept out of the public eye: He not only was voted out of his House seat in 2002, but his post-politics effort to run Baskin-Robbins shops collapsed amid litigation and allegations of mismanagement.

Condit, 60, currently resides in Phoenix, manages several real estate properties and spends much of his time with his three grandchildren from Chad, 41, who lives nearby. “Gary has a right to be angry,” says his mother Jean Condit. “But he’s decided anger is something you can’t continue to live with and have a productive life. You have to give your anger up to the Lord, which is what Gary has done.”

In 2005, father and son opened and operated together two Baskin-Robbins ice-cream parlors. “It’s a family-run shop,” Chad told CNN’s Larry King in 2005, adding that the former congressman could sometimes be found doling out scoops from behind the counter.

Both franchises shut down after a lawsuit by Baskin-Robbins accused the Condits of mismanagement, saying they had defaulted on their payment obligations. During a one-day trial in 2007, the court ruled in the company’s favor, ordering the Condits to pay $44,431 to Baskin-Robins for past fees. They were also told to pay attorney’s fees and interest estimated at $60,000.

When he wasn’t scooping ice cream, Condit stayed busy in the courts, as he and his wife filed lawsuits against multiple media outlets. Some, including an action against the National Enquirer, were settled, while a lawsuit against USA Today was dismissed. He also settled an $11 million defamation lawsuit against author Dominick Dunne, receiving an apology as part of the deal.

Condit has declined to comment to PEOPLE about the arrest last week of Ingmar Guandique, a laborer from El Salvador who has been charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of Levy. Guandique was already serving a 10-year sentence for attacking two women in Washington D.C.’s Rock Creek Park, where Levy’s remains were found in 2002. “Did the D.C. Police do this intentionally to my dad, or was it just basic incompetence?” Chad Condit asks of the original investigation, which focused on his father. “Two women were attacked in the vicinity of where they found Chandra Levy’s body and the police never go talk to them? That’s amazing to me.”

In his only statement since it was announced last month that an arrest would be forthcoming, Condit told D.C. TV station WJLA, “It is unfortunate that an insatiable appetite for sensationalism blocked so many from searching for the real answers for so long. I had always hoped to have the opportunity to tell my side of the story, but too many were not prepared to listen.”

Despite his years lost to the Chandra Levy case, Jean Condit says her son does not feel a sense of vindication. “No, it’s not vindication, it’s relief,” she explains. “The media kept on him about his ‘involvement’ for so long, he’s just relieved they finally have got the right person. He’s thankful they have the guy that really murdered Chandra Levy.”

Condit plans no return to public life, says his mother. Instead, he may have found a new career. “He’s working on a book,” Jean Condit reports. “It will be all about his experience.”

2001: After four months, Gary breaks his silence on Chandra