Memo: Gov. Deal's staff interfered with ethics case

by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:

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ATLANTA —

The executive secretary of Georgia's ethics commission says two of Gov. Nathan Deal's top advisers interfered in his then-pending ethics case, urging her to agree to settlement terms before a public hearing.
 

The governor and his staff have repeatedly denied any interference with the case, which settled for $3,350 in fines. Deal initially faced a proposed $70,000 in fines stemming from alleged violations during his 2010 campaign.
 
Deal said last fall, "There was no involvement, no improper involvement whatsoever." FULL STATEMENT HERE.
 
When asked Monday about alleged involvement he told Channel 2's Lori Geary, "The only thing I know is if we wanted to have these cases brought before the campaign finance commission in a timely fashion. We felt that two years was long enough."
 
Ethics Commission Executive Secretary Holly LaBerge documented the contact from Deal's chief counsel Ryan Teague and Chief of Staff Chris Riley in a July 2012 memo.
 
She told then-chairman of the ethics board, Kevin Abernethy, she felt threatened by a call from Teague, the same staffer who had initially approached her about applying for the ethics job months before it became vacant.
 
The memo, obtained by Channel 2 Action News Monday, also details several text messages from Riley, urging LaBerge to settle Deal's case.
 
In a text message LaBerge claims Riley wrote, “Ryan said of two issues, legal fees and aircraft are not even on the table for discussion.”
 
LaBerge also documented a call from Teague in which he was “acting as an intermediary to try to come to a resolution on the Deal complaints ahead of Monday's [Ethics] Commission meeting.”
 
LaBerge wrote that Teague informed her 'it was not in the agency's best interest for these cases to go to a hearing on Monday; nor was it in their best political interest either."
 
LaBerge went on to document that she felt Teague threatened her by saying the Ethics Commission might not receive a promised increase in its authority if the case wasn't resolved that weekend.
 
"I know of no communications along those lines," Deal told Geary on Monday, “I haven't seen anything that would evidence that." 
 
The memo was likely turned over to federal prosecutors with other subpoenaed records in January of this year.
 
LaBerge was one of five current and former ethics staffers who received grand jury subpoenas for all records relevant to the governor's case, after former staffers John Hair and Elisabeth Murray-Obertein claimed LaBerge ordered the destruction of records and bragged about the governor 'owing her' because she helped make his case go away.
 
Those statements came to light during depositions in two recently settled lawsuits.
 
Former State Ethics Commission secretary Stacey Kalberman and deputy secretary Sherilyn Streicker both sued after suddenly losing their jobs while pursuing the ethics investigation against Deal. They alleged he directed their ousting and replaced them with LaBerge to affect his case.

Deal responded in September saying, "All of these allegations, are totally unsubstantiated and primarily are false."
 
But in May, the state agreed to pay Kalberman $1.15 million after a Fulton County jury agreed with her claim that she was forced from office for investigating Deal's case.
 
The state also agreed to settle Streicker's case for $1 million, Hair's case for $410,000 and Murray-Obertein will be paid $477,500.
 
The settlement money comes from the state's self-funded insurance program funded with taxpayer dollars.
 
Deal, Riley, and Teague were all on the potential witness list for Streicker's case before it settled.
 
LaBerge's attorney says the attorney general's office, which provided the memo to Channel 2 Monday, urged her not to mention the memo during her testimony in the Kalberman case.
 
Deal told Geary he hasn't seen the memo and could not comment specifically about it until he sees what it says.