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Misuse of Office?

November 7, 2012 by Blue Ridge Leader filed under Government, Loudoun County, News No Comments
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In March of this year, a staff aide to Sterling Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio went to the county’s Human Resources Department to file a complaint against her employer. The aide, Donna Mateer, was fired later that day.

In an eight-page statement (pdf) written at the request of HR staff, Mateer described a hostile work environment in which she and her fellow aides were subjected to verbal abuse and tirades in which Delgaudio mocked racial minorities and homosexuals. She also says that she was instructed to spend most of her time making appointments for Delgaudio from a list of potential political donors, a violation of county policy. Mateer’s allegations, supported by other former aides and donors on the so-called “Igor list,” were made public in a Washington Post article at the end of September.

It was not until the publication of that article that Chairman Scott York acknowledged a March meeting with senior staff during which he and Vice-Chair Janet Clarke were informed of Mateer’s allegations. In a press release dated October 2, York stated: “When the Board’s leadership team was made aware of these allegations against Supervisor Delgaudio, we asked that the complaint filed against Mr. Delgaudio be given to the Loudoun County Commonwealth Attorney Jim Plowman for review. Mr. Plowman then referred the matter to the Commonwealth Attorney’s office in Arlington for an independent assessment. Based on the information provided at that time, the Arlington’s Commonwealth Attorney [Theo Stamos] did not recommend pursuing any charges against Mr. Delgaudio.”

However, emails obtained from both Plowman and Stamos show that neither of them received a large package of documentary evidence taken from Delgaudio’s office by Mateer and provided to York at his request. An email exchange between the prosecutors indicates that neither had knowledge of any additional documents. When asked why he withheld the records, York maintained that Plowman and Stamos should have sought them from Mateer directly, saying “I’m not a prosecutor, that’s their job.”

At its October 3 business meeting, the Board of Supervisors (including Delgaudio) voted unanimously to hire an outside firm to investigate the matter, setting a maximum budget of $15,000.

The possession of the additional records by York and the limited information provided to the prosecutors came to light after a new Political Action Committee requested the documents under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act. The Real Advocate PAC – a poke at the name of Delgaudio’s nonprofit group “Public Advocate” – was formed last month by four Loudoun residents: Former county supervisor Stevens Miller, his wife Liz, and Equality Loudoun co-founders Jonathan and David Weintraub. According to its website, the PAC’s mission is to oppose “any elected official, regardless of their party, who relies on, promotes, or condones the hatred of any class of persons.” Earlier this year, the Southern Poverty Law Center added Delgaudio’s nonprofit to its listing of hate groups, claiming that it has “for years…spread lies and vitriol about LGBT people to raise funds.”

While the Real Advocate PAC doesn’t assert that the alleged improper fundraising was for Public Advocate, Communications Director Liz Miller points out the allegation that an employee of Public Advocate was at one point placed in a supervisory role over Delgaudio’s staff aides, and that documents obtained through FOIA show that individual as a recipient of county government emails. “The documents we have so far strongly suggest that he co-mingles his activities,” said Miller. “There is no functional separation between Supervisor Delgaudio, candidate Delgaudio, and hate group director Delgaudio.”

Documents shared with the Blue Ridge Leader show a pattern of emails sent to Delgaudio’s government address being forwarded by him to other accounts, and often forwarded on to political contacts from those accounts. A disclaimer that appears on his campaign website reads in part, “In sending e-mails to Eugene Delgaudio, if you want your e-mail to be considered a ‘public record,’ which may be disclosable to anyone who asks, please indicate you are sending your e-mail to ‘Eugene Delgaudio, as Supervisor’.” In fact, the Virginia Freedom of Information Act doesn’t consider the manner of address or the email account used in its determination of what is a public record.

According to Real Advocate, they are still sifting through the many documents already obtained, and finding in them information that guides new FOIA demands. “We have some specific things we’re looking for in these supposedly ‘non-public’ email accounts. Delgaudio’s office has requested more time to respond to some of our FOIA demands, and we have reason to believe that some responses have been incomplete,” Miller continued. “We will rely on the courts if necessary to enforce compliance.” Miller declined to elaborate further.

The Blue Ridge Leader contacted Vice-Chair Clarke requesting comment about her knowledge of the allegations and what role the board will play in the pending investigation. At press time she had not yet responded to that request.

Delgaudio has acknowledged instructing his aides to set up meetings with potential donors, but says that they were to raise money for a youth football league. “It’s not illegal to raise money for charities,” he told the Finance and Government Services Committee, on which he sits. “It’s not unethical to do that.”

“It doesn’t ultimately matter whether staff aides were setting up meetings to raise funds for Public Advocate, or for Delgaudio’s reelection campaign, or for some other interest of his that isn’t county business,” said Real Advocate’s David Weintraub. “What we don’t understand is why the rest of the board is trying so hard to protect him, why it is that York and Clarke, at least, sat on this information for seven months, and did absolutely nothing until they were forced to by the Washington Post story. Donna Mateer trusted them, and she never heard from them again.”

Update: As we were going to press, Real Advocate made public a letter of engagement dated October 26, on County Attorney letterhead, detailing the agreement between the county and an Ashburn based investigative service retained to review the complaint.

Since that time public documents have disclosed that the lead investigators have ties to Loudoun politics that appear to create a conflict of interest. The lead attorney who would be reviewing the investigative report was previously employed by M.C. Dean, a major campaign contributor to Delgaudio and other past and current supervisors. No announcement of the contract has been posted to the county website.

At the November 7 board meeting Charles King, an attorney representing Delgaudio, as well as two county residents advised the board that the public would not be able to have confidence in the outcome of a compromised investigation. The attorney, speaking of Delgaudio, said “Even if he wins, he loses.”

This is a developing story.

Documents:
Donna Mateer statement (pdf)
County Attorney letter of engagement
Commonwealth’s attorney email exchange:
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