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December 12, 2013

Subpoenas related to gov’s ethics complaints

ATLANTA — Two employees of the state ethics commission have received federal grand jury subpoenas seeking documents related to ethics complaints involving Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, according to two people with knowledge of the case.

The commission’s executive secretary, Holly LaBerge, received a subpoena Wednesday, a person with direct knowledge of the case told The Associated Press. The AP obtained a copy of the federal grand jury subpoena for staff attorney Elisabeth Murray-Obertein from a person familiar with the case. The two individuals spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

In addition, former commission staffer John Hair told the AP on Wednesday night that he, too, had received a federal grand jury subpoena seeking documents. The case number referenced in Hair’s subpoena matches that of the commission’s case on the governor. Hair said he received his subpoena on Friday.

Deal’s attorney Randy Evans said the inquiry does not involve the governor and likely includes allegations that agency documents in the case may have been altered or destroyed.

“We’re not involved in this,” Evans said by phone, adding the governor has not received any communication from the U.S. attorney’s office or the FBI. “If documents have been removed, altered or destroyed then there should be an investigation. That’s what we’ve said from the beginning.”

LaBerge declined comment and referred questions to her attorney, who did not respond to messages seeking comment. Murray-Obertein’s attorney Cheryl Legare also declined comment, as did Bob Page, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Atlanta.

The subpoenas show federal authorities want any documents related to an investigation by the ethics commission of Deal’s campaign finances and disclosures during his 2010 run for governor, but they reveal nothing about the scope of the inquiry. The subpoenas order the documents to be produced to the grand jury on Jan. 14.

Deal, a Republican, was cleared of major charges in the state ethics commission probe. He agreed in a July 2012 settlement to pay $3,350 in administrative fees to resolve violations of campaign finance and disclosure laws.

The commission’s handling of the Deal investigation has been at the center of two lawsuits by former employees who allege retaliation. Former commission executive secretary Stacey Kalberman and her deputy Sherry Streicker claim the ethics commission cut Kalberman’s salary by about 30 percent and eliminated Streicker’s position as they were seeking to gain approval from commissioners to issue subpoenas in the Deal case.

Sworn statements in those lawsuits have included allegations the governor’s office helped recruit LaBerge, a former lobbyist for the Georgia Public Defender’s Standards Council, and that she later claimed the governor “owes her” for taking care of the complaints.

Deal has said previously he doesn’t know LaBerge and doesn’t owe her anything.

LaBerge said in a court deposition that she was initially contacted by the governor’s office to see if she was interested in the position. Deal has said it’s common for his office to recommend potential candidates for state positions.

Murray-Obertein has provided sworn statements in the two civil cases and her attorney previously confirmed that Murray-Obertein had been contacted several times by the FBI. In a September interview, Murray-Obertein said she initially recommended up to $70,000 in fines against Deal to resolve the ethics complaints and thought a few of the cases needed further investigation.

Murray-Obertein claimed LaBerge has, on more than one occasion, said the governor “owes her” for taking care of his ethics complaints and met frequently with the governor’s chief of staff and office legal counsel to discuss the ethics complaints. Deal has said those meetings were to discuss efforts by state lawmakers to implement ethics reform.

Hair, a former IT specialist, said he was terminated after he began raising questions about documents he was told to remove from the Deal case file. He said, at the time, he was told replacement documents would be submitted but started asking questions when that didn’t happen.

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Associated Press Writers Ray Henry and Kate Brumback in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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Follow Christina Almeida Cassidy on Twitter: http://twitter.com/AP—Christina.

 

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