Deadline day for federal grand jury to receive ethics records

by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:

Loading

ATLANTA - Tuesday marked the deadline for five witnesses in a federal investigation into Georgia's Ethics Commission to hand over records to a grand jury.

Channel 2 Action News confirmed the subpoenas did not require the former and current ethics commission employees to appear in person, only to produce any records in their possession.

"When those documents are produced, they're checked into the grand jury ... but then they go immediately to the U.S. Attorney's Office," said Paul Monnin, who now defends white collar cases for DLA Piper. He spent six years with the U.S. Attorney's Office, culminating as deputy chief of the white collar division for the Northern District of Georgia.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer spent Tuesday morning inside the federal courthouse in downtown Atlanta, observing the hallway outside the grand jury room. She saw none of the witnesses from the ethics case.

However, working in conjunction with our news partners at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Fleischer confirmed the state agency's current director, Holly LaBerge; current staff attorney, Elisabeth Murray-Obertein; former director, Stacey Kalberman; former deputy Sherilyn Streicker; and former IT specialist John Hair all received written demands for documents from the federal government.

"They're going to be careful about the way in which they conduct the investigation, but I have no doubt that they have interviewed the individuals you just listed multiple times," said Monnin, who has had no involvement in this case but is familiar with how these kinds of cases are handled.

The case originated after Kalberman and Streicker filed lawsuits saying they suddenly lost their jobs while pursuing an ethics investigation against Gov. Nathan Deal involving campaign violations. The subpoenas directed both of them to turn over all of their records from that investigation to prosecutors.

"It is an indication to others that the government is taking the investigation seriously and once subpoenas (are) issue(d) by the grand jury, it doesn't up the ante, but it does give the investigation a different status than if it were just informal," said Monnin.

FBI agents interviewed Ethics Commission staff attorney Elisabeth Murray-Obertein after she gave a sworn deposition saying she heard LaBerge brag about the governor owing her. During LaBerge's tenure the case settled for roughly $3,350 in fines, significantly lower than the $70,000 originally proposed.

Former ethics employee John Hair was also subpoenaed for records. He told Channel 2 LaBerge directed him to alter and destroy records in the governor's case, and to stop using the public email system.

"It appears the U.S. Attorney's Office is still trying to figure out if the case has merit, either in terms of what happened with campaign contributions or also what may have happened in the course of the ethics investigation," said Monnin, adding that any action on the case would likely involve a decision from the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.

Monnin says prosecutors will likely want the records electronically so they can track any alterations or deletions, who made them and when. He says they will likely look for differences between the original agency records prepared by Kalberman and Streicker, and the current agency records provided by LaBerge.

"If they look at the two sets of records and it's likely that the set of records provided by the whistleblower should be at the state agency, well that's obviously a question that you're going to be asking of the individuals who ran the agency," said Monnin, "Then you can establish probable cause for a search warrant."

LaBerge's attorney would not confirm whether she turned over any records, but reiterated that she has vowed to cooperate with the investigation.

The governor has repeatedly denied any involvement in Kalberman's departure from the state agency and any influence in how his ethics case was handled.