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June 13th, 2012 NIGEL JAQUISS | News Stories
 

A Violation of Trust?

A former legislative aide accuses a lawmaker of sexual misconduct.

news1_wingard_3832STATE REP. MATT WINGARD - IMAGE: WW Staff
A former aide to Deputy House Republican Leader Matt Wingard (R-Wilsonville) has accused him of giving her alcohol when she was underage, pressuring her to have sex, and keeping her on the public payroll after she ended the relationship with him and stopped reporting for work.

The former aide first approached the Oregon Department of Justice in January with allegations about Wingard’s conduct, which she says took place in 2010, beginning when she was 20.

The DOJ, and later the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, interviewed the woman. Both agencies declined to bring charges, concluding there was no crime committed or the statute of limitations had run out. Neither agency interviewed Wingard about her allegations.

Wingard, 39, is a former TV reporter who was first elected to the House in 2008 and is a rising star in his caucus. In addition to his legislative responsibilities, he serves as a spokesman for Oregon Connections Academy, the state’s biggest online charter school.

Wingard acknowledges the woman worked for him and he had a sexual relationship with her. But he says the relationship was consensual and he never provided her with alcohol when she was underage.

“I am confident all the facts will come out and my name will be cleared,” Wingard tells WW.

The former aide, now 23, grew up in Salem and was a student at Portland State University when she first met Wingard at a 2009 Christmas party held by the Oregon Federation of College Republicans at the Shilo Inn Suites in Salem. She declined to talk to WW about her allegations or the investigations.

According to the DOJ report, the woman says Wingard gave a speech at the party, and later “the two had a conversation wherein she jokingly stated he should hire her.” 

Wingard did hire her in early 2010. Not long after, at the age of 20, she attended the Dorchester Conference, the annual GOP gathering in Seaside. She told a Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office investigator Wingard gave her beer and “was persistent that she drink the beer.” She said she felt “dizzy” after drinking a beer and a half.

“Her legs began to feel numb, and she began to lose feeling in her body,” the sheriff’s report says.

She told the sheriff’s investigator that Wingard later invited her by text message to his room, where she found him “in his bed with his shirt off.” 

The woman told investigators she can’t remember what happened after that. 

“She said the next thing she knew she woke up in the morning and was in Rep. Wingard’s bed under the covers, but was fully clothed,” the DOJ report says. “She said Wingard was next to her on top of the covers, clothed as well.”

After that, she told DOJ investigators, Wingard “pursued her by constantly asking her out for drinks [and] dinner and sending her text messages. She said on several occasions he asked her to send dirty (sexual) text messages to him. She said she agreed to do this because she felt if she didn’t he would not talk to her and it made her work environment hostile.”

The report adds, “There were times when she would not go to dinner with Rep. Wingard, or would not send the text messages he desired, and he would simply ignore her for days by not talking to her or responding to emails. She felt like Rep. Wingard was punishing her.”

Oregon House rules prohibit workplace harassment, including “any threat or insinuation, either explicitly or implicitly, that a person’s refusal to submit to a sexual advance will adversely affect that person’s employment, evaluation, wages, duties, work shifts, or any other condition of employment or career advancement.”

The woman told investigators that, after weeks of pressure, she “finally gave in to all of Rep. Wingard’s requests” and entered into an “ongoing sexual relationship.”

Wingard says he never pressured the woman to have sex. “I had a consensual relationship with her that lasted for four months,” he says. 

Asked whether it is appropriate for a lawmaker to have sex with a subordinate, Wingard says, “ I believe that what two consenting adults do is their own business.”

The woman said she felt uncomfortable with the relationship and broke it off. She said she often didn’t show up to work, and eventually told him she was quitting. For a month after she quit, she says, her paychecks kept coming.

Legislative records show she was on the state payroll from April to December 2010. She was paid $800 a month as a part-time staffer.

But Wingard denies he continued paying the woman after she stopped working. “Once she made it clear she wasn’t showing up, she was not paid any longer,” he says.

Investigators asked her if she felt forced into any of the sexual encounters she had with Wingard, and she said no. Investigators concluded there was no crime involving sex because the woman said she had consented to a relationship with Wingard.

The woman also alleged that Wingard “frequently has parties at his residence in Wilsonville where alcohol is available to minors.” Wingard says that is false.

On March 3 of this year, six weeks after she first contacted DOJ investigators, the woman texted them and made an even stronger allegation regarding the 2010 night at Dorchester.

“I have more to say,” the text message read. “Matt drugged me…. And I have witnesses that know he drugged me when I was 20.”

That’s when the DOJ referred the case to Clackamas County, where Wingard lives. After interviewing the woman twice, the sheriff’s office ended the investigation without contacting Wingard or any of the other people the woman said had information about her relationship with Wingard. 

Wingard says the allegation that he drugged her is absolutely false. “Never,” he says.

Why did the woman wait nearly two years to report the incidents? She told investigators she had tried to forget about her relationship with Wingard, but in the fall of 2011 ran into him twice. Seeing him, she said, prompted her to take action.

She is “concerned for other women who may work for him,” she told DOJ investigators.

Her allegations have been reported to House Republican leaders by at least one GOP official and a party activist who know the woman and vouch for her credibility.

“[W]e don’t want there to be a Republican ‘conspiracy of silence’ related to any possible misdeeds by elected officials,” Washington County GOP Chairwoman Rachel Lucas and her husband, Dan, wrote to House Republican Leader Kevin Cameron (R-Salem) in a May 14 letter.

Rachel Lucas accompanied the woman to her interview with the Clackamas County deputy. Lucas and her husband gave WW a copy of the letter to Cameron and agreed to speak after the newspaper contacted them.

Dan Lucas, who edits the Oregon Catalyst, a GOP blog, says Cameron told him May 17 that, after receiving the Lucases’ letter, he had obtained a copy of the Clackamas County sheriff’s report.

Dan Lucas says Cameron assured him he had scheduled a meeting with Co-House Speaker Bruce Hanna (R-Roseburg) and senior House GOP staff to discuss what to do about Wingard.

“We’ve never heard back from Cameron or anybody else,” Lucas says. “It was extremely disappointing that we didn’t hear anything, and then the first thing we hear is that [the woman] got a threatening letter from Wingard.”

House GOP spokesman Nick Smith says Cameron was traveling and couldn’t be reached for comment. “This is a personal issue for Rep. Wingard, and we have nothing to say at this time,” Smith says.

Wingard’s behavior has been an issue before. In 2008, when he first ran for his House seat, Wingard volunteered to WW and The Oregonian that in 2002 he had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault for hitting his 7-year-old son on the head with a screwdriver.

In Salem, Wingard is co-chairman of the House Education Committee. In 2009, he sponsored a bill to expand penalties for coaches who sexually abuse young athletes.

Testifying in support of that bill, Wingard told colleagues that coaches who exploit the power they have over their players for sexual gratification are guilty of a “serious violation of trust.” 

UPDATE: Wingard has stepped down as Deputy GOP House Leader


FACT: Matt Wingard is performing political consulting for Rep. Katie Eyre (R-Hillsboro) and Clackamas County Chair candidate John Ludlow.

 
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