updated 10/18/2006 9:53:55 PM ET 2006-10-19T01:53:55

Information in an attack ad run by Rep. Bob Beauprez against his Democratic opponent for governor used illegal confidential information from a federal law enforcement database, Colorado authorities said Wednesday.

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The Colorado Bureau of Investigation launched a criminal investigation into the ad after gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter’s campaign raised the possibility that the databases were illegally accessed because the information could not be verified through public records.

Director Robert Cantwell said the information came from the National Crime Information Center, a federal database available only to law-enforcement officials.

“Because this is a federally controlled and regulated system, CBI has requested the assistance of the FBI to further pursue the investigation,” Cantwell said. “The FBI and CBI will be working jointly to complete the investigation.”

Use of the federal criminal database for any purpose other than law enforcement is a crime punishable by fines and up to a year in prison.

The TV ad refers to a suspected illegal immigrant who was arrested in Denver in 2001 on suspicion of heroin trafficking. The ad says that when Ritter was the district attorney for Denver, he chose to seek a plea bargain in the case, the man avoided deportation, and he was later arrested in California on suspicion of sexually assaulting a minor.

The Beauprez campaign has said the information came from an informant and has refused to identify the source.

In a radio debate in Denver earlier Wednesday, Ritter demanded that Beauprez disclose how he got the information, saying the Republican has promised to be accountable for his actions.

“If you’re going to talk about accountability ... but you’re utilizing information that can only be obtained illegally, we need to know what your source is,” Ritter said.

Beauprez responded that Ritter was trying to do dodge questions about why he plea-bargained with the defendant mentioned in the ad.

“I think, in fact I know, that the information we’ve got is absolutely, indisputably true, Beauprez said.

The FBI’s involvement “doesn’t change anything for us,” Beauprez spokesman John Marshall said. “We’re going to fully cooperate with whomever we need to cooperate with.”

The investigation is an ugly twist in the relatively mild campaign to succeed Republican Gov. Bill Owens, who is prevented by term limits from running again. Recent polls show Beauprez, a two-term congressman, trailing Ritter.

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