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FBI looking into ethics scandal with alleged ties to governor

Action News has learned a state ethics scandal with alleged ties to Gov. Nathan Deal's office is now under federal investigation. (WSB)
Action News has learned a state ethics scandal with alleged ties to Gov. Nathan Deal's office is now under federal investigation. (WSB)
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Updated: 10/11/2013 4:08 pm
ATLANTA, Ga. (WSB) -- Channel 2 Action News has learned a state ethics scandal with alleged ties to Gov. Nathan Deal's office is now under federal investigation.

An attorney, who represents current ethics commission staff attorney Elisabeth Murray-Obertein, said she has already spoken with FBI agents. Brian Sutherland would not disclose the nature of the questions agents asked his client.

Murray-Obertein previously told Channel 2 Action News she believes an ethics commission case against the governor was mishandled by her boss, Holly LaBerge. 

"I noticed some irregularities," Murray-Obertein said of the Deal case. 

Murray-Obertein alleged in depositions that LaBerge bragged about making the governor's ethics problems go away, and that he owed her. 

"I killed myself working that case and it was for nothing, because she was meeting behind closed doors with the governor's people and apparently everything I did was meaningless," Murray-Obertein said. 

Former ethics commission computer specialist John Hair told Channel 2 investigative reporter he also heard LaBerge's statements about helping the governor and that her relationship with the governor's office seemed "cozy." 

He said he initially did what LaBerge and her secretary, Lisa Dentler, directed. 

"They asked me to alter some of Gov. Deal's documents," Hair said, "They were asking me to manipulate records. Plain and simple."

Hair said he altered documents dozens of times, removing certain paragraphs and merging sections of spreadsheets together to replace certain information. 

He said LaBerge had him use her personal email address and a separate computer drive to keep records hidden from the public. 

The ethics commission eventually settled the complaints against the governor for $3,350, far less than the $70,000 originally proposed by Murray-Obertein. 

LaBerge admitted in her deposition that it was somebody in the Governor's Office who initially recruited her for the job at the ethics commission, months before the job became vacant.

At the time the position was held by Stacey Kalberman, who along with her deputy secretary, is now suing the commission. The pair led the investigation into Deal's alleged campaign finance violations until they suddenly lost their jobs.

"I think they had sufficient information and proof to move forward with an investigation on the governor, and they were ready to sign the subpoena. I feel there were individuals on the commission who asked [Kalberman] to be quiet," Hair said.

Hair's attorney said she could not confirm whether he, too, had been approached by the FBI. 

An FBI spokesperson said it is against FBI policy to confirm whether an investigation is ongoing.

However, court records confirm the FBI looked at similar allegations two years ago. Those case records are currently unavailable, which would indicate the old case is still open or has been reopened.

Holly LaBerge told our news partners at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she is aware of the FBI's investigation. 

Her attorney said she did not direct Hair or anyone else to destroy records, and that she showed no favoritism toward Deal in the handling of his case. 

The governor has repeatedly said the allegations surrounding the ethics commission and his case are false. He also denies any involvement in Kalberman's removal. 

His attorney, Randy Evans, said the governor has not been contacted by the FBI, but that he has nothing to hide.
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