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Rep. Susan Fagan accused of ethics violations, resigning

Fagan
Fagan

OLYMPIA – Rep. Susan Fagan faces ethics violations that House officials have deemed “extremely serious” and will resign Friday.

Fagan, a Pullman Republican, is accused of inflating mileage reports to increase  reimbursements she received from the state, using state resources for campaigning and pressuring staff to change expense reports so she would receive more money.

In a statement released Wednesday evening, Fagan said she was resigning “with a sad heart.” She said the problems with her expense accounts were a result of “careless record keeping (that) begin and end with me” and that she has reimbursed the state for records that were “problematic.”

“I should have been more precise with my records, and I did not give my reimbursement reports the respect and attention they deserve. That is my fault,” she wrote. “At no point did I try to derive personal gain from expense reimbursements.”

But House Republican Leader Dan Kristiansen called the allegations “a serious breach of the public trust” that warrants a thorough review by the Ethics Board. Fagan’s decision to resign “is the appropriate course of action and in the best interest of taxpayers,” he said.

House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said the discrepancies in Fagan’s reimbursement forms were “more than just clerical errors.” She made the right decision to resign and the board will decide what other actions are appropriate, Chopp said. 

The allegations are contained in a confidential, hand-delivered letter to the Legislative Ethics Board in January from Barbara Baker, chief clerk of the House. It lists three major ethics violations:

• Fraud and theft for improper use of state resources for personal gain. 

The letter alleges that Fagan falsified expense accounts by claiming mileage to events that were “simply made up – that is, there was no such meeting, town hall or other event.” In other cases, she allegedly listed the wrong location of an event or the distance traveled. Falsified mileage reports would be important in Fagan’s rural southeast district because House rules allow a member to be reimbursed above a set limit if the travel exceeds 50 miles one way or 100 miles in a day. “Effectively there is no limit to this in-district 100-mile reimbursement,” the letter says.

• Improper use of state resources for political campaigns.

Some of the reimbursements allegedly were made for campaign events, including two trips to a falsified event so Fagan could pick up a campaign contribution, and a trip to a county fair to work in a campaign booth. If true, she may have violated state statutes against using public resources for political campaigns, the letter says.

• Pressuring employees in an improper use of office and resources. 

Baker’s letter says Fagan pressured legislative assistants to change expense reports so she could inflate the payments she received. Staff reported to House officials that she changed reports they prepared “so as to perpetrate the fraud.” 

One staff member was quoted in Baker’s letter as saying “I am uncomfortable being left here to continue to be her scapegoat. … I feel a bit like that goat on ‘Jurassic Park,’ tied up, waiting to get eaten alive.”

In a statement today, Baker said the discrepancies were “more than just paperwork errors.”

After two meetings before the 2015 session started, Fagan was advised to resign and pay back an amount that House accountants determined had been overpaid to her. She denied any wrongdoing, said the problems were bookkeeping errors and agreed to reimburse the state for overpayments. 

Last week, House officials learned the preliminary investigation by the Ethics Board substantiated allegations that Fagan knowingly falsified her forms, Baker said in Wednesday’s statement. She was asked to resign her seat before the special session began; she decided to resign Friday and pay back any remaining money she owes, Baker said.

Fagan is a public relations specialist who served as director of public affairs for Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories for 10 years before being elected to the House from the 9th District in 2010. She served as regional director for former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, for six years and an aide to U.S. Sens. Steve Symms and Jim McClure, two other Idaho Republicans, from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s.

She serves on the appropriations and education committees. She also serves on the special joint committee trying to address the state Supreme Court’s mandate for the Legislature to improve public schools. She ran unopposed last year and in 2012 in the strongly Republican district. 

 Because Fagan represents a district that contains six counties, the process to appoint a replacement may extend past the 30-day special session. Precinct committee officers in those counties will choose up to three possible replacements, and the county commissioners from all six counties will have to schedule a meeting where a single candidate is selected by a majority vote.

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