The saga of former Portland State University vice-provost Mike Burton is not over.
Burton, a former longtime lawmaker and Metro chair, abruptly left the university last summer ahead of a damning audit, first reported in August by WW, that found he took an 11-day European junket on PSU's dime under highly questionable circumstances. Burton claimed he was going to attend professional conferences but the conferences either did not take place or took place when he was not present.
Burton subsequently repaid $4,500 and PSU referred his case to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission.
But WW has learned Burton is now under criminal investigation.
Yesterday, the Multnomah County District Attorney's office released correspondence to WW pursuant to a public records request. That correspondence shows that at least for now, a criminal probe has taken precedence over the Ethics Commission's inquiry.
On Oct. 13, Ethics Commission investigator Deborah Tuss wrote to Multnomah County DA Mike Schrunk, Portland Police Chief Mike Reese and Oregon Department of Justice criminal chief Darrin Tweedt.
"Recent information provided to the Commission indicated that a criminal investigation of the same circumstances [regarding Burton] may have been referred to one of your offices for further action. As you know [Oregon law] requires the Commission to suspend our inquiry into civil law violations until any criminal matters related to the circumstances are resolved...I would appreciate confirmation if there was or is a criminal matter pending and if so has it concluded."
On Oct. 18, Schrunk replied.
"This confirms there is an investigation pending on the matter you reference in your October 13, 2011 letter involving the Portland Police Bureau, the Department of Justice and our office," Schrunk wrote. "While the investigation is pending, we'll have no further comment."
Other records WW obtained from PSU suggest the university may not have wanted a criminal investigation of Burton's actions.
Here's a section of an email Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Gary Meabe sent to PSU General Counsel David Reese on Aug. 18, 2011, regarding whether the university system should release the Burton audit to WW or withhold it if there were to be a criminal investigation:
I also pointed out that if there was going to be a police report filed and a criminal investigation done, then documents related to that investigation should not be released before the investigation even starts. It may seem obvious, but I made sure to emphasize that in order for the police to do an effective job, they would need the documents and would need to complete their investigation before the documents are released and made public. In virtually any criminal case, it would seriously undermine the investigation to have the primary documents released and made public before the police investigation has even started, let alone concluded. It is, of course, your choice whether to release these documents and whether to make a report to the police. I merely wanted to make sure everyone understood the result of the release of investigative documents would probably be highly detrimental to any possible criminal case. It's really a matter of timing. The documents can be released now if PSU doesn't want to ask for a criminal investigation or the documents can be release later if you choose to file a police report and have this investigated as a potential criminal matter.
Reese green-lighted release of the audit less than 24 hours later, signaling the university did not want a criminal investigation. (PSU spokesman Chris Broderick says the university decided not to seek charges because Burton paid the money back.)
Burton could not be reached. John DiLorenzo, Burton's attorney in the ethics proceeding, declined to comment on the criminal investigation.