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Former Aides: Conyers Violated Ethics Laws

That model of ethical behavior, John Conyers (D-Iran), is in the news again.

From The Hill:

Former Conyers aides press ethics complaints

By Jonathan E. Kaplan

Two former aides to Rep. John Conyers have alleged that he repeatedly violated House ethics rules.

Deanna Maher, a former deputy chief of staff in Conyers’s Detroit office, and Sydney Rooks, a former legal counsel in the district office, provided evidence for the allegations by sharing numerous letters, memorandums and copies of e-mails, handwritten notes and expense reports with The Hill.

In letters sent separately by each woman to the House ethics committee, the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office, they allege that Conyers demanded that aides work on several local and state campaigns and forced them to baby-sit and chauffeur his children. They also charge that some aides illegally used Conyers’s congressional offices to enrich themselves.

Maher decided she could no longer work for Conyers in such an unethical environment and quit in May 2005. Rooks had left Conyers years earlier; she was a full-time staffer working in the office for him from 1997 to 1999. Before leaving, Conyers placed her on paid administrative leave for several months and stopped paying her in April 2000.

“I could not tolerate any longer being involved with continual unethical, if not criminal, practices which were accepted as ‘business as usual,’” Maher wrote in a letter to the ethics panel dated Jan. 13, 2006.

A spokesman in Conyers’s office referred questions to Stanley Brand, an attorney who regularly defends public officials charged with wrongdoing.

Brand said, “We’ve responded fully and completely over two years ago to what the ethics committee sent to us, and we’ve not heard anything since then.”

A partisan dispute over staffing issues shut down the ethics committee in 2005, but GOP sources said the panel, known formally as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, has since hired a staff director and a team of investigators. The committee is evaluating which investigations to pursue, including the Conyers matter.

Rooks said that she spoke to Ken Kellner, a lawyer on the committee, last year but that he dismissed her complaints “as old news.”

While the ethics committee has been aware of the allegations against Conyers for at least two years, Maher’s allegations date back to 1998, a year after Conyers hired her.

Maher had been a well-known child advocate in the Detroit suburbs. She told the ethics panel in a letter that Conyers nicknamed her the “Legal Beagle” because as chairwoman of the Youth at Risk Advocacy Coalition she pushed the state of Michigan to upgrade a home in Wayne County for delinquent children.

In her Jan. 13 letter, Maher recapped a previous allegation she had made that DeWayne Boyd, a former top aide to Conyers, used Conyers’s congressional office to obtain a fake passport after being convicted of fraud, making false statements and government theft in 2004. Sentenced in 2005 to 30 to 46 months in prison, Boyd fled to Ghana before being recaptured and extradited to the United States.

The crux of the allegations involves complaints that Conyers used his staff to work on several local and state campaigns including his wife’s failed bid for a seat in the state Senate. In 2003, the Detroit Free Press reported about the allegations that Conyers repeatedly violated House rules by forcing staffers to work on campaigns without taking leave.

Among Maher’s allegations:

• In 2002, Conyers’s aides in D.C. were sent to Detroit to help his wife, Monica, win a state Senate seat. While she lost that election, she won a seat last year on the Detroit City Council.

• On June 2, 2003, Conyers forced Maher to spend a day campaigning for Keith Williams, who won a seat on the Wayne County Commission. She became fed up and drove off after going door to door to distribute campaign literature for a few blocks.

• Carol Patton, a legislative counsel on Conyers’s personal staff, was hired in 2003 to help Williams and to help JoAnn Watson in her bid for Detroit City Council. Patton still works for Conyers and earns more than $44,000 per year, according to the 2005 House statement of disbursements.

• In a Dec. 22, 2004, letter, Maher said Conyers staffer Melody Light “conducts her law practice (charging legal fees) out of the congressional office. … She has in effect hung out her shingle on [Conyers’s] office door.”

Maher and Rooks said that Conyers tasked staffers in his district office with taking care of his two young boys, John and Carl.

“If he asked you to do something, you knew you had to do it,” said Rooks, 54, who administers a homeless shelter in Detroit.

She told The Hill that she tutored “Little John,” as Conyers’s elder son is known, when he was a student at the Cranbrook School, a private school in Bloomfield Hills. The tutoring took place during normal working hours, and she was not given additional compensation for the work, nor was she reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses.

Rooks said when the son received low grades, Conyers told her, “‘Well, Rooks, you can add tutoring to your list of stuff to do.’”

She added that a staffer would pick the son up from school, take him to the office, fix him a snack and help him with his homework.

Maher provided a copy of an e-mail from Jan. 13, 2004, written by Dean Christian Thornton, a former staff assistant, who complained that he had not been reimbursed for the cost of gasoline when Conyers “wanted me to use my truck to shuttle him and his kids around and not use his car.”

A former staffer who has worked for two House Democrats said, “This type of behavior is so prevalent, the unofficial duties that members require you to do off-the-record. Most staffers are subjected to this unfair treatment. It’s the great untold story on Capitol Hill.”

A federal judge dismissed a suit filed against Rooks in 1999. Aramark, a catering company, sued Boyd and Rooks because it was not paid for its services for a conference for black farmers that they, at Conyers’ direction, organized. Rooks counter-sued Conyers. While the judge ruled in her favor, her suit was dismissed because she did not appear at a hearing. (Maher has not taken any legal action against Conyers.)

Hopefully Conyers will hold pretend hearings in a basement somewhere to get to the bottom of these allegations.

John Conyers swears in fellow moral paragons Joe Wilson, Cindy Sheehan and Ray McGovern during his pretend hearings on the "Downing Street Memo."

But I’m not going to wait for any further details. I’m just going to demand he be impeached.

This article was posted by Steve on Wednesday, March 1st, 2006. Comments are currently closed.

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