But suddenly, once again, the issue of ethics rises like a dark cloud over Deal with the revelation that a federal grand jury has subpoenaed documents relating to an investigation by the commission into ethics complaints filed against the governor over finances and disclosures in his 2010 campaign, resulting in a small penalty paid last year.
The Associated Press dug up the story that subpoenas have been received by Holly LaBerge, executive secretary of the ethics commission; staff attorney Elisabeth Murray-Obertein and former staff member John Hair. They are to hand over documents relating to the Deal case to the grand jury Jan. 14, the AP reported.
Deal’s attorney, Randy Evans, said the governor is not involved and that the probe probably includes allegations that commission documents in the case may have been changed or destroyed. He said, “We’re not involved in this. If documents have been removed, altered or destroyed then there should be an investigation.”
The accusations in the case are not new. Some of them emerged in sworn statements by former commission employees in lawsuits alleging retaliation against them for pursuing the ethics case. Former executive secretary Stacey Kalberman and deputy Sherry Streiker assert that the commission slashed Kalberman’s pay about 30 percent and abolished her deputy’s job even as they tried to get by commissioners to issue subpoenas in the case. John Hair, former information tech staffer, said he was fired after asking questions about documents he was instructed to remove from the Deal case file.
Current staff attorney Murray-Obertein has said she recommended fining Deal up to $70,000 to resolve the ethics complaints and she believed some of them required further investigation. The matter officially closed with Deal paying $3,350 in administrative fees in July 2012. Murray-Obertein also has alleged that commission executive secretary LaBerge on more than occasion claimed that Deal “owes her” for taking care of the ethics complaints for him and that she had met with his chief of staff and legal counsel to talk about the ethics complaints.
Deal has several times denied everything, saying he doesn’t know LaBerge, owes her nothing, and that it’s all about politics. And just in time for the 2014 re-election campaign. Now Deal will have to spend a lot of time fighting off attacks by Republican primary opponents and then if he wins renomination face more attacks from the Democratic nominee.
Deal survived tough attacks from opponents in his 2010 run when accusations against the former congressman concerned unresolved ethics complaints by a U.S. House committee. The charges were not pursued after Deal left Congress to run for governor.
This time Deal’s problems could be a lot bigger simply because a federal grand jury is investigating the case.