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It may reek of supermarket tabloid sensationalism, but Doug and Sammie Mays' covert interview with inmate Pete Rose has created quite a stir.

Prison officials say it never happened; the National Enquirer says it did.The Mays, of Moss Point, are gloating with patrons of their Key West Bar & Grill over the tactics they said they used in sneaking into the minimum security prison at Marion, Ill., to photograph and interview Rose.

The pictures and story appear in the tabloid's Sept. 11 issue.

``We love it. We are elated,' Mays said. ``These little bitty Mississippians did it. We beat the federal government.'

The 39-year-old musician-photographer and his 32-year-old wife, a reporter for the Mississippi Press in Pascagoula, said they caught up with Rose Aug. 25 while he was watching a baseball game on television with fellow inmates.

``The money was one thing, but the thrill of doing it was unbeatable,' Mays said. ``That high, you will never get that again. And Pete Rose thought it was great we went to that much creative sneakiness.'

Newspaper and magazine writers across the country have tried to scheme their way into the prison, where Rose is serving five months for cheating on his income taxes. The Mays claim they did it by convincing prison officials they had a date to do a free concert, then stuffing cameras into a speaker and paying an inmate $50 to take them to Rose. They say they got 15 minutes with Rose plus pictures, then played rock music for the inmates for 90 minutes before leaving.

``Pete Rose said, 'Man ... y'all Mississippians are hell,' ' Mays said. ``He kept laughing about how we sneaked past the guards. He was impressed. We were totally in disbelief. We could not believe we were in there with Pete Rose.'

The red kicker on the Enquirer cover reads: ``Pete Rose In Prison - Exclusive First Photos and Interview.'

But Robert Carr, the prison's chief psychologist, said: ``It's all fabrication.'

``They make claims that they talked to the warden. The warden wasn't here that week. He was a thousand miles away.

``Mr. Rose was not subjected to an interview and there may have been a picture taken, but it wouldn't have been with his approval. Mr. Rose has repeatedly said that he didn't want to be interviewed,' Carr said.

``There was a band in here that evening, but our position is that the whole thing is a fabrication.'

He said the musical group received written approval to perform ahead of time from the warden.

``They (the Mississippi couple) refer to themselves as con artists,' Carr said. ``Sometimes egos, especially among people who are employed by that publication, run rampant. I suspect money would have something to do with that.

``We have had to tighten up security now and are going to have to delay visitors as they come in. It's sad but true.'

Enquirer articles editor Joe Mullins, whose byline appears on the Rose story, said: ``We're satisfied with the authenticity of the pictures.'

The Mayses are the same couple who sneaked into a New Orleans movie set in 1988 for a rare interview with actor Paul Newman. As Newman and the Mayses strolled down Bourbon Street eating peaches, pen and pad came out.

Since then, they've hooked about 20 famous people for print.

Mays claimed that to get inside Marion he called the warden and convinced him that his band, Doug Mays and the Key West Coconuts, were booked to perform at the prison Aug. 25.

The couple said they hid two 35mm cameras in the front of a speaker and safely passed through two body and equipment searches. While Sammie Mays flirted with the guards, Doug Mays said he offered an inmate $50 to take him to Rose.

And there he was, dressed in a gray jogging suit and white high-top tennis shoes, watching a game with the guys.

``Pete Rose said, 'How in the hell did you get a camera in here?' ' Mays said. ``Are y'all with the musicians from Mississippi? What a great ruse.' He said, 'Take my picture. I am giving you a ticket to ride. You're going to be rich on this picture.' '

Sammie Mays even made off with Rose's Cincinnati Reds cap.

``He took it off his head and put it on my wife's head,' Mays said. ``He's totally Mr. Baseball. He wasn't cocky at all. He is down to earth, and he likes to wisecrack. We even swapped wife jokes.'

The Mayses said they then slipped back to the visitors' patio where they played a 90-minute rock 'n' roll set for about 230 cheering inmates. Rose sat in on the last 15 minutes of the show.

``He gave us the thumbs-up,' Mays said. ``And a smile.'

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