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Georgia Ethics Chief Claims Deal’s Staff Threatened Her, Agency

Holly LaBerge says she was was not Gov. Nathan Deal’s puppet in the investigation of his 2010 campaign finances.

"I didn't fix any cases. Nathan Deal's or any others," Holly LaBerge told Fox Atlanta. Credit: Screenshot from Fox Atlanta
"I didn't fix any cases. Nathan Deal's or any others," Holly LaBerge told Fox Atlanta. Credit: Screenshot from Fox Atlanta
State ethics commission chief Holly LaBerge claims Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s staff threatened and pressured her and the agency in 2012 to settle an investigation into Deal’s 2010 campaign finances, according to a memo that surfaced Monday.

The memo, first obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, alleges that while LaBerge was on vacation, she received text messages from Deal’s chief-of-staff, Chris Riley, and a phone call from Deal’s executive attorney, Ryan Teague, who wanted a resolution to the complaints before a public hearing.

Deal tells AJC he never knew of the correspondences.

Teague allegedly said, “It was not in the agency’s best interest for these cases to go to a hearing … nor was it in their best political interest either.”

“The most troubling allegation is that a senior member of the governor’s staff possibly blackmailed the head of an agency by threatening to stop potential legislation because of the outcome of an investigation,” William Perry, executive director of Common Cause, told AJC.

The cases in question are investigations into Gov. Deal’s 2010 campaign finances that first surfaced in early 2011, according to AJC. Former ethics chief Stacey Kalberman and her deputy, Sherilyn Streicker, investigated whether Deal improperly using campaign money to pay for a private aircraft for campaign travel.

The complaints against Deal were ultimately dismissed, AJC reports. Deal paid $3,350 for “technical defects to his campaign disclosures.”

By June 2011, Kalberman and Streicker had both left their jobs, AJC reports. Streicker was fired. Kalberman resigned after a salary cut from $120,000 to $85,000. Both filed whistleblower lawsuits against the state.

Cheryl Legare, Kalberman’s attorney, told WABE she believes LaBerge’s memo is proof that Kalberman was forced to leave so Deal “could put his own person, Ms. LaBerge, into position at the commission, which he did.”

“At the end of the day, she made the charges go away,” Legare told the radio station.

But LaBerge tells Fox Atlanta her reputation has been destroyed.

“If I’m a puppet put there to make his legal problems go away, why would his legal counsel have to call me and threaten me?” LaBerge told Fox Atlanta in an interview. “Shouldn’t his legal counsel be able to say, ‘Remember the deal? You’re the puppet. We’re pulling the strings.’”

“I didn’t fix any cases. Nathan Deal’s or any others,” LaBerge told Fox Atlanta.

Elisabeth Murray-Obertein and John Hair, two of LaBerge’s former employees -- both fired -- claimed LaBerge bragged about making Deal’s problems “go away” and asked for files related to the case, AJC reports. LaBerge denied both claims.

The state has agreed to almost $3 million to settle three lawsuits filed by former commission employees, according to the newspaper.

Deal is up for re-election against Democrat Jason Carter who tells AJC taxpayers are stuck paying for these settlements. Carter is calling for a new investigation into the Deal case.
Octo Slash July 17, 2014 at 08:59 AM
In the year 2014, this is the best Georgia can come up with? This is the choice? A crook named 'Deal'...and a CARTER????? Shoot me in the head.
David Brown July 17, 2014 at 09:01 AM
Erick Erickson will be discussing the ethics situation with Governor Deal on his show this afternoon. I wonder if Mr. Erickson will invite State Senator Jason Carter on his show to get Senator Carter's perspective.
TheSkalawag July 17, 2014 at 10:21 AM
Why do people care what Erick Erickson or ANY political pundit has to say? More often than not their mode of communication is bias toward THEIR political beliefs and agenda. ----- When opinion is trusted and projected than facts and the truth of matters we ALL suffer.
Brian July 20, 2014 at 01:17 AM
Good, let's get this rural-loving good-'ol-boy out and someone in who will help Metro Atlanta, which more than half of GA's economy.

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