updated 11/16/2006 10:01:19 PM ET 2006-11-17T03:01:19

Florida has opened a full criminal investigation into sexually explicit Internet messages from disgraced former Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, whose resignation amid scandal helped Democrats win control of Congress, officials said Thursday.

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State investigators previously launched a preliminary inquiry into the e-mails and instant messages sent by Foley to underage former congressional aides.

"We are now doing an active criminal investigation," said Heather Smith, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

She said the upgraded investigation meant "we've established there is factual and credible information or evidence that a criminal violation may have been committed."

Foley, a six-term Florida congressman, resigned his seat in late September after public disclosure he sent sexually explicit electronic messages to teenage boys who had worked as congressional interns.

Congress and the FBI launched investigations in addition to the Florida probe.

A few days after Foley resigned, his attorney, David Roth, denied the ex-congressman had ever had sexual contact with a minor. He said Foley had been molested by a clergyman as a teenager and had entered rehab for treatment of alcoholism.

The scandal, coming just weeks before the Nov. 7 midterm elections, helped Democrats win control of both houses of Congress for the first time more than a decade. Polls indicated corruption and ethical lapses in Washington weighed heavily in voters' decisions.

Foley's Florida seat, considered safe for the Republicans before the disclosures, went to a Democrat.

Smith declined to discuss specific details of the investigation but said it centered on possible "inappropriate communications between Mr. Foley and house pages ... that may have occurred in our state."

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