Ethics whistle-blower: "I was told to alter Deal ethics case records"

Ga. ethics committee under fire over Gov. Deal investigation

ATLANTA — Channel 2 Action News has learned another former ethics commission employee is planning to sue the embattled state agency.

The decision comes amid a scandal with alleged ties to Gov. Nathan Deal's office.

Former Ethics Commission Media Specialist John Hair said his boss made him destroy records in the governor's ethics case and then retaliated against him, eventually terminating his employment.

"If I didn't say something about it, that isn't going to help [bring] change," Hair told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer. "There's too many people that look the other way in situations like this."

Hair is one of two whistle-blowers who now say the current executive secretary of the commission, Holly LaBerge, bragged about making the governor's legal problems go away, saying he 'owes her.'

Hair said he believes the governor's office influenced LaBerge, an allegation the governor denies.

Deal has said he never intervened in the case in any way, and does not believe he owes LaBerge anything.

"They asked me to alter some of Gov. Deal's documents. I know it was his [case] because it had his name on it," Hair told Fleischer.

Hair says he knows information was altered and in some cases removed from state ethics records because he was ordered to do it dozens of times.

"I just kind of did what I was told," Hair said, adding that he later became more educated on the requirements of Georgia's Open Records Act.

He claims LaBerge had ordered ethics staffers to use personal email addresses when dealing with the governor's case to keep records hidden from the public.

He said LaBerge later approached him about altering additional records relating to her predecessor's lawsuit.

"And that's when I flat out just said, 'No,'" Hair said. "They were asking me to manipulate records, plain and simple."

This is a complicated case two years in the making.

Former Ethics Commission Executive Secretary Stacey Kalberman and former Deputy Secretary Sherilyn Streicker, the top two ethics investigators at the time, were building a case against Deal when they suddenly lost their jobs.

They each filed lawsuits alleging the governor orchestrated their dismissal to avoid hefty fines and possible criminal allegations.

"I think they had sufficient information and proof to move forward with an investigation on the governor and they were ready to sign the subpoena. I feel there were individuals on the commission who asked [Kalberman] to be quiet," Hair said.

At the time, the commission cited budget concerns as the cause for Kalberman and Streicker's departure.

But in a deposition, Kalberman's replacement, Holly LaBerge, said there was no budget crisis when she came to the commission.

LaBerge also confirmed "somebody" in Deal's office approached her about taking Kalberman's job months before it was open, but said under oath she could not remember who that was.

A Deal spokesman confirms it was special counsel Ryan Teague.

Once LaBerge took over as executive secretary for the commission, the case against the governor collapsed. A proposal of more than $70,000 in fines settled for $3,350.

Hair describes LaBrege's relationship with the Governor's office as "very warm and cozy."

"By her own verbal admission, in saying she made the governor's legal problems go away, it doesn't get any more plain as day as that," Hair said.

Two weeks ago, the current Ethics Commission staff attorney, Elisabeth Murray-Obertein, told Channel 2 Action News she also overheard LaBerge make that statement.

Obertein testified to that in her deposition, and acknowledged that records were manipulated.

The ethics commission has since voted to seek an outside investigation into the shake-up.

"They've said something along the lines of there are no documents that are missing or have been altered, that is absolutely not true," Hair said.

Through an attorney, Holly LaBerge said she never showed favoritism toward Deal and never asked Hair or anybody else to alter records.

She said she welcomes an outside investigation and says she will cooperate fully.