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Ethics chief claims Deal aides pressured her, threatened agency

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Staff writers Greg Bluestein and Nicholas Fouriezos and Channel 2 Action News reporter Lori Geary contributed to this article.

ETHICS COMMISSION TIMELINE

2010

Nov. 2: Republican Nathan Deal is elected governor.

2011

January-May: The top two staff members of the state ethics commission, executive director Stacey Kalberman and her deputy, Sherilyn Streicker, open an investigation into the Deal campaign. They meet with federal prosecutors and the FBI concerning their inquiry. The two draw up subpoenas for Deal and others and prepare to serve them.

June: Kalberman and Streicker are gone from their jobs. Streicker’s job is eliminated. Kalberman’s salary is cut from $120,000 to $85,000, and she resigns. The chairman of the ethics commission, Patrick Millsaps, says he needed to cut costs.

August: Holly LaBerge is hired as the commission’s new director.

2012

June: Kalberman and Streicker file separate whistleblower lawsuits against the state.

July 23: The state ethics commission clears Deal of major ethics violations while finding he made “technical defects” in a series of personal financial and campaign finance reports. Deal agrees to pay fees totaling $3,350.

Sept. 1: The AJC reports that Kalberman and Streicker held several meetings with federal public corruption authorities to discuss the ethics commission’s investigation into Deal. The U.S. Attorney’s Office would not confirm nor deny that there had been a federal investigation into Deal. Referring to the meetings, Deal lawyer Randy Evans said “there was never anything to it.”

2013

September: The AJC reports that two staff members of the state ethics commission accused LaBerge of improperly intervening in the investigation of Deal. Staff attorney Elisabeth Murray-Obertein and information technology specialist John Hair made the accusations in sworn testimony taken as part of Kalberman’s and Streicker’s whistleblower suits. Hair said LaBerge ordered him to destroy documents in the Deal file. Murray-Obertein said LaBerge bragged that Deal “owed” her for making his legal troubles go away. LaBerge denied those accusations in her own testimony. Deal also denied any wrongdoing.

Oct. 10: The AJC reports that the FBI had interviewed Murray-Obertein.

Oct. 22: The state ethics commission votes to have the state auditor investigate the beleaguered agency.

Dec. 11: Federal investigators issue subpoenas to at least five current and former ethics commission staff members seeking documents to present to a grand jury.

Dec. 19: The ethics commission votes unanimously to hire veteran lawyer Robert Constantine to oversee operations from January to May.

2014

Jan. 6: Relying on personnel files obtained through an open records request, the AJC reports that Constantine was fired in August 2013 as a judge on the state Board of Workers’ Compensation for “failure to meet performance expectations.”

February: Deal and two top aides are subpoenaed by Streicker and could testify in her lawsuit. The ethics commission cuts ties to Constantine, voting to conclude his services while agreeing to pay the full $16,000 of his original agreement.

March: The ethics commission faces a third whistleblower suit —- this one filed by Hair, the agency’s former IT specialist. Hair claims he was fired after refusing orders from LaBerge to alter or remove documents related to the Deal investigation.

April 4: A Fulton County jury awards $700,000 to Kalberman in her suit claiming she was forced out as executive director of the commission for investigating Deal’s campaign too vigorously.

April 7: Deal proposes an overhaul of the ethics commission, calling for 12 members who would be appointed by the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

May 21: The final amount in Kalberman’s case is set at $1.15 million, with Kalberman receiving $725,111.79 and the law firm Thrasher Liss & Smith being paid $424,881.21. The state Department of Administrative Services will pay the costs through its self-funded insurance program.

June 13: The state agrees to settle the remaining cases against the ethics commission and to pay Streicker $1 million, Hair $410,000 and Murray-Obertein $477,500.

Monday: The AJC obtains a memo in which LaBerge alleges that aides for Deal contacted her in July 2012 and pressured her to settle the ethics commission case against the governor. Days later, the commission cleared Deal of the major violations, and he agreed to pay the fee for technical defects in his reports.

Digging deeper

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution began following the infighting, funding lapses and legal challenges plaguing the state’s ethics commission before the departure of chief Stacey Kalberman in June 2011 by reviewing documents and conducting interviews with staff.

Digging deeper

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution began following the infighting, funding lapses and legal challenges plaguing the state’s ethics commission before the departure of chief Stacey Kalberman in June 2011 by reviewing documents and conducting interviews with staff.

Digging deeper

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution began following the infighting, funding lapses and legal challenges plaguing the state’s ethics commission before the departure of chief Stacey Kalberman in June 2011 by reviewing documents and conducting interviews with staff.

Digging deeper

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution began following the infighting, funding lapses and legal challenges plaguing the state’s ethics commission before the departure of chief Stacey Kalberman in June 2011 by reviewing documents and conducting interviews with staff.

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