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Government and Politics
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington State Rep. Fagan To Resign Over Ethics Allegations

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Washington Legislature
Washington state Representative Susan Fagan is resigning her seat over ethics charges.

Washington State Representative Susan Fagan, R-Pullman, is resigning her seat amid allegations of multiple ethics violations.

Fagan, who once worked for disgraced former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, is accused of inflating her taxpayer-reimbursed mileage expenses, using state resources for political purposes and other violations of the state ethics act.

In an emailed statement Fagan said, “At no point did I try to derive personal gain from expense reimbursements.” She called her resignation, effective Friday, a “disappointing and painful end” to her public career.

Fagan’s impending resignation was first reported by The Spokesman Review newspaper.

House Leaders Express Disappointment

A preliminary ethics investigation substantiated the allegations against Fagan, according to an email late Wednesday from House Chief Clerk Barbara Baker. However, the Legislative Ethics Board has not taken formal action. Earlier this week House Republican leaders met with Fagan and asked her to resign.

“I am very disappointed with Representative Fagan’s conduct,” said House Republican leader Dan Kristiansen in a statement. “Her misuse of state travel and reimbursement funds is a serious breach of public trust.”

Speaker of the House Frank Chopp also issued a statement expressing disappointment in Fagan’s actions.

“It’s become clear that discrepancies in her reimbursement forms are more than just clerical errors,” said Chopp.

Baker said the Legislative Ethics Board investigation is ongoing. The board’s attorney Mike O’Connell said he couldn’t confirm that.

“There is one pending [complaint before the board],” O’Connell said Wednesday evening. “It was filed in January and when the board reaches a public determination of what it’s going to do … all that information will be made available.”

The ethics board could ultimately impose monetary penalties against Fagan and even refer the case for prosecution. Alternatively the board could dismiss the case based on Fagan’s resignation and the fact she’s already reimbursed the state for some of the inflated expenses.

Fagan maintains her inaccurate expense reports seeking taxpayer-funded reimbursements were the result of “careless recordkeeping.”

Staff Felt “Pressured”

A five-page complaint to the Legislative Ethics Board, dated January 6, 2015 and labeled confidential, details the “serious” allegations against Fagan.

The complaint, which the House clerk released Wednesday, says that last fall two legislative assistants approached House Republican caucus staff to raise concerns about Fagan’s expense reports.

What followed were initial findings by House staff that Fagan had engaged in five “categories of misconduct.” They include claiming reimbursements for “fake or nonexistent events,” claiming mileage in excess of miles driven and seeking taxpayer reimbursement for campaign-related activities.

The complaint says, “On at least two occasions, it is alleged that [Fagan] falsified an event so that she could travel to pick up a campaign contribution check.” It goes on to say, “On at least one occasion, it is alleged that [Fagan] falsified an event so that she could work at a campaign booth at a county fair.”

The complaint also alleges that Fagan “pressured” staff to falsify her reports. One House legislative assistant is quoted in the letter as saying, “I am facilitating her by entering fake meetings and falsifying her expenses … I feel a bit like that goat on Jurassic Park, tied up, waiting to get eaten alive.”

That assistant later left her job with the Washington House in part because of the situation, according to the complaint.

The bulk of the alleged improper expenses were claimed between January and October of 2014 and total “several thousand dollars and perhaps even more,” according to the ethics complaint submitted by the House clerk.

Resignation Leaves Vacancy

Fagan was first elected in 2009 to represent the sprawling 9th legislative district in southeast Washington. She was scheduled to hold a telephone town hall meeting on Thursday. That event has been cancelled.

Prior to joining the legislature, Fagan was director of public affairs at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories. Previously she was a regional director for Craig.

Fagan’s announced resignation comes at the beginning of a 30-day special session. Her replacement will be selected at a later date.

In her statement, Fagan calls her years in the legislature “An honor and a privilege.” She plans to inform Gov. Jay Inslee by letter of her plan to resign effective at the close of business Friday.

This year Fagan prime sponsored one bill in the Washington legislature dealing with sexually violent predators. It passed and is awaiting Inslee’s signature. Fagan also sponsored a resolution honoring the Colton High School Wildcats girls’ basketball team. It was adopted.