Ex-ethics commission employee in Georgia says docs altered

ATLANTA - A former Georgia ethics commission computer specialist says he altered and removed dozens of documents from the case file involving complaints against the governor.

John Hair removed, changed and condensed documents from the file for the investigation into complaints accusing Gov. Nathan Deal of misusing campaign funds in the 2010 election, he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV. Hair doesn't know the details of the documents because he didn't examine them closely, but he believes they included financial information, he said.

The newspaper previously reported Hair said in sworn testimony he was fired after refusing a request from commission executive secretary Holly LaBerge to remove another document earlier this year.

Attorneys for Deal and LaBerge denied Hair's claims, with Deal's lawyer calling Hair a "disgruntled former employee."

Hair told the newspaper and television station he was fulfilling orders from LaBerge and her top aide, Lisa Dentler. Both women declined to comment.

"They were asking me to manipulate records, plain and simple. Deleting information. I was asked to go onto the network and pull a certain document," Hair said. "They had me remove documents under the case file under the understanding that I would receive documents to replace it. And I never did."

Randy Evans, Deal's attorney, said he doesn't know of any documents being removed from the file and wasn't aware of any information -- other than Social Security numbers or bank account details -- that would need to be hidden. The ethics commissioners who considered Deal's case saw unredacted documents, he said.

The commission ultimately imposed a $3,350 penalty on the governor, considerably less than the $70,000 originally recommended by the commission's lawyer.

Hair may have deleted extra documents or duplicates, Evans said, adding that he has kept detailed records of the case file to "consistently make sure the documents are still intact."

"Nothing of consequence, nothing material got deleted," he said. "Any suggestion to the otherwise is untrue."

The Georgia Attorney General's Office is representing the commission in whistle-blower suits filed by its former executive director and her deputy. Spokeswoman Lauren Kane said the office was told nothing was removed from the file.

Hair says those claims are "absolutely false."

"There are missing files because I was there," he said. "I'm the one who removed them."

The Journal-Constitution reported last month that Hair and commission attorney Elisabeth Murray-Obertein accused LaBerge of intervening in the Deal investigation. They said LaBerge later bragged that Deal "owes" her for making his troubles disappear.

LaBerge has denied those accusations in sworn testimony. Her lawyer Mike Brown said Tuesday that LaBerge never asked anyone to alter documents.

The newspaper has also exposed legal filings showing two Republican members of the commission worked with the governor's office to pick LaBerge for the job before her predecessor left and statements from the commission's lawyer that she was pressured to quietly settle cases against Deal.

Deal has told reporters that he doesn't know LaBerge and that he doesn't owe her anything.

The ethics commission has called for an independent investigator to be appointed to look into the claims.

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