Whistleblower Verdict for Kalbermann Exposes Gov. Deal on Ethics (UPDATE 1)
(APN) ATLANTA — Last Friday’s jury verdict in favor whistleblower Stacey Kalbermann, former Executive Secretary of the Georgia State Ethics Commission, may be the first crack in the dam that Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, built for himself when he took office almost four years ago.
Kalbermann blew the whistle on the Georgia Government and Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (formerly known as the Georgia State Ethics Commission), subsequent Executive Secretary of the Commission Holly LaBerge, and the former acting chair Patrick Millsaps for their roles in Kalbermann’s dismissal from her position with the Ethics Commission as Executive Secretary.
Three other former Commission employees currently have pending whistleblower lawsuits stemming from the same apparent attempts by Gov. Deal’s appointees to sabotage investigations into Gov. Deal’s ethical issues.
Kalbermann won her suit last Friday, April 04, 2014, and was awarded 700,000 dollars in damages by a jury of twelve Fulton County voters. Some of the jurors went to Kalbermann and hugged her after the court was adjourned.
Kalbermann worked for the Commission from April 2010 until she was wrongfully terminated in July 2011.
[As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, after Kalbermann’s termination, she applied for a position as Ethics Officer for the City of Atlanta. However, she withdrew her name in March 2012 from consideration after then-Councilman Lamar Willis (Post 3-at-large) proposed legislation, which ultimately failed, that would have reduced the independence of the ethics officer.]
The taxpayers of Georgia now have to foot the bill for Gov. Deal’s poorly planned attempt to cover up two things: (1) a Georgia Department of Revenue investigation looking into the sale of Deal’s former company Copart, Inc., [which owed 74 million dollars in back taxes to the State,] to his number one competitor; and (2) gross violations of the Georgia Campaign Finance Act by Deal’s 2010 Gubernatorial campaign.
The new owners of Copart, Inc. have yet to pay the 74 million dollar bill; Deal profited from this deal to the tune of 11 million dollars, even though the company was 2 million dollars in debt. According to Better Georgia, Deal continues to collect a 20,000 dollars a month lease payment from Copart, Inc, who still owes that bill originated by the Governor.
When the head of the Department of Revenue, Doug MacGinnitie, was appointed by Deal in 2011, MacGinnitie immediately started an investigation into this business deal, presumably because his predecessor, Bart Graham, was running his own investigation.
Some sources interviewed for this story but wishing to remain anonymous, believe that MacGinnitie’s appointment was the beginning of Deal putting people in place in an attempt to keep himself from being further investigated.
“We’ve been actively working on this for eight months, since last summer. When we saw that Deal sold his salvage business, it didn’t smell right. It’s a complex business deal; a lot of the records are hidden, which makes it hard. We submitted on October 8th an open records request to the Department of Revenue. This request would cost us four million dollars and take almost a year to fulfill. When we saw Friday’s verdict, it confirmed our worst suspicions. There was an organized effort to get rid of people that worked for the public to find the truth,” Bryan Long, Executive Director and Founder of Better Georgia, told APN.
Multiple attempts by APN to reach Commissioner MacGinnittie have not been immediately returned.
When the Ethics Commission investigation, headed by Kalbermann, was not getting cooperation from Deal’s campaign in 2010, Kalbermann did her due diligence and informed the State Attorney General’s office of her intention on running subpoenas at Deal’s campaign.
She also had meetings with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other authorities. She then informed all the Commissioners, who did not want to seem like the Commission was influencing an election and waited until the election was over to address the investigation.
During this time she kept her superior, Chair Patrick Millsaps, appointed by Gov. Deal, informed of her staff’s findings.
After presenting the subpoenas to Millsaps, he became visibly upset, according to court documents.
And, like a scene from the Watergate scandal, Millsaps, Holly LaBerge, and many others on Deal’s campaign and administrative staff started altering and destroyed documents, denying a need for any further scrutiny into Deal’s campaign, and creating pretexts to justifying the need to fire any persons working on the investigations.
Kalbermann’s assistant, Sherilyn Streicker, was fired due to “budget cuts.”
Kalbermann’s salary was cut by almost 40,000 dollars for the same purported reason; and behind Kalbermann’s back, Millsaps ran a media campaign that claimed she was resigning. According to court documents, Kalbermann never submitted her resignation.
Thanks to Holly DeBerge, the investigation of Deal’s campaign finance was dismissed just two months after Kalbermann and Streicker were fired.
“When the Governor says ‘it has nothing to do with our offices, cause we didn’t testify’, it’s mind boggling. They didn’t need his offices to prove it [the whistleblower claims] and they got three more [whistleblower lawsuits] coming. This is close to an ethical crisis; the agency is in complete dysfunction and in an election season when the Commission is needed the most,” William Perry, Executive Director of Georgia Common Cause Georgia, told APN.
Readers may recall that as soon as Gov. Deal took office, the Ethics Commission was summarily dismantled.
Since Friday’s whistleblower verdict, Deal claims to have a plan for major ethics reform.
In true Watergate form, Deal is standing behind every shady deal and decision he and his camp have made since his political inception.
“When the Governor changed the name [of the Commission], it wasn’t just symbolic; he was radically changing the role of how we investigate our elected officials and what is available to the public. He didn’t want anyone to investigate public officials and now we know why. Now we’re getting a glimpse of why,” Long stated.
“Deal is a reactive Governor. He doesn’t do anything until a situation looks like it may cause him political damage. The snowstorm is a perfect example. He was in the Ritz, doing nothing, while half the state was in crisis. He’s using this state for his own personal gain,” Long said.
With the FBI and U.S. Attorney Sally Yates involved, it will be many months before voters see any justice, if at all.
The upcoming Republican Primary, or possibly the General Election, may be the only chance for voters to hold Gov. Deal accountable for his intolerable actions against the state and taxpayers.
Is this enough of a crisis to turn Georgia blue? State Sen. Jason Carter (D-Decatur), the only Democrat seeking the nomination to run for Governor, has been taking advantage of the situation to raise ethical concerns about the current Governor, in attempt to paint a contrast with himself.
Even before Deal was elected Governor, he was being investigated as a U.S. Congressman. He resigned from Congress in order to end the Congressional investigation, and yet the voters of Georgia chose him to first have the Republican nomination for Governor, and then the Governorship.
“In Metro Atlanta no one is shocked. They’re numb to it. People flat out have given up. The needle will be moved with a major crisis. This may be it,” Perry said.
“Stuff is going on all over the state; there is a lack of leadership administratively and legislatively which is contributing to the infrastructure crumbling now,” Perry said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Holly LaBerge. APN regrets the error.