by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:
ATLANTA - Channel 2 Action News has obtained a letter of recommendation written on behalf of the state's embattled ethics director, Holly LaBerge.
“It certainly makes the governor's relationship with the ethics director look less distant than they've both claimed in the past," said William Perry, Director of Common Cause Georgia, an ethics watchdog group.
Perry recalled the governor once saying he couldn't pick LaBerge out of a crowded room.
The letter LaBerge would be “an excellent candidate for Leadership Georgia,” a training program for business, civic, and community leaders. The letter complimented her “unique and diverse perspective on the many challenges that face our state.”
In June, the state paid several whistleblowers a total of $3 million after they claimed LaBerge “made the governor's ethics problems go away” by settling his cases for a fraction of the proposed fines.
LaBerge was recruited by the governor's staffers, and replaced a director who was more aggressively pursuing the ethics cases against the governor.
Two weeks ago Channel 2 obtained a memo LaBerge wrote, documenting what she characterized as a threatening call and texts from the same governor's staffers just before his ethics cases settled. The governor's letter of recommendation was written a year after those texts.
LaBerge's attorney told investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer the letter of recommendation shows Governor Deal really had no idea that LaBerge was actually a roadblock in his ethics negotiations.
Lee Parks said, "Holly [LaBerge] was removed from the process and the ethics board ended up settling the governor's cases without her."
Parks added, "Of course [the governor] was happy with the outcome of his cases, and he knew he might need the ethics board again this year since he's running for re-election."
Deal spokesman Brian Robinson told Fleischer the letter of recommendation was actually written by an administrative assistant, on behalf of the governor, and that an average of 4 or 5 of those are written each year.
"This letter illustrates a respectful and professional relationship between Ms. LaBerge and the governor that was not too cozy and not too hostile,” Robinson said.
LaBerge did not end up getting selected for the Leadership Georgia program.