State

Jeff Hoover denies allegations he had sex with staffer and donors funded settlement

Then House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, spoke after he took the oath of office in Frankfort, Ky., Tuesday, January 3, 2017. Jeff Hoover, a Jamestown attorney who has been in the state House since 1997, was Kentucky’s first Republican speaker of the House of Representatives in 95 years and only the third in Kentucky’s history.
Then House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, spoke after he took the oath of office in Frankfort, Ky., Tuesday, January 3, 2017. Jeff Hoover, a Jamestown attorney who has been in the state House since 1997, was Kentucky’s first Republican speaker of the House of Representatives in 95 years and only the third in Kentucky’s history. cbertram@herald-leader.com

The communications director for the Kentucky House Republican caucus sued the Legislative Research Commission on Monday, alleging that she is being pushed out of her job because she shed light on sexual harassment claims by a female colleague who had been in an “inappropriate sexual relationship” with then-House Speaker Jeff Hoover of Jamestown.

In her whistle-blower lawsuit in Franklin Circuit Court, Daisy Olivo said she and the House aide who was in a relationship with Hoover both were unfairly targeted for punishment by Hoover’s chief of staff, Ginger Wills.

The lawsuit contained two new allegations: that Hoover engaged in a sexual relationship with the House aide who later accused him of harassment, and that “prominent campaign donors” provided the money needed to settle the aide’s harassment complaint against Hoover and three other Republican state representatives.

Through an attorney, Hoover issued a statement Monday flatly denying both allegations.

“The allegations set forth in the whistle-blower lawsuit filed today are absolutely not true,” Hoover said in his statement. “I have never engaged in sexual contact of any kind with any staff member during my 21 years in Frankfort. Never.”

Hoover’s attorney, Leslie Vose, verified Monday night a statement from Louisville attorney Garry Adams, who is representing the former LRC employee involved in the sexual harassment scandal. Adams said that his client, who has not been publicly identified, has never engaged in sexual relations with Hoover.

Likewise, Adams said, his client was not coerced into resolving the matter. “Among numerous inaccurate matters alleged by Ms. Olivo, our client did not advise her that the matter was resolved with ‘private funds pooled by prominent campaign donors.’”

As for the source of funds behind the harassment settlement, Hoover said, “The law firm report issued last week confirmed that no settlement funds came directly or indirectly from political donors or lobbyists.”

That’s not exactly what the law firm hired by House GOP leaders — Middleton Reutlinger of Louisville — concluded in its report released on Friday. Rather, the firm said it could not confirm that there was no unlawful or improper funding of the settlement because the four lawmakers involved, including Hoover, would not tell them how much money was involved, and it was forced to rely on the explanations the lawmakers offered. The lawmakers said they used their own private funds and loans from family, friends and banks to settle the allegations, the report said.

“The identity of these lenders and the absence of any improper source should be confirmed by the Legislative Ethics Commission or other authority with subpoena power,” the firm wrote in its report for House Republican leaders.

Some of the information in Olivo’s suit was not disclosed to Middleton Reutlinger during its investigation, House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne said Monday. Osborne has referred the sexual harassment scandal to the Legislative Ethics Commission.

“With the ethics commission involved and now a lawsuit that will make even more text messages and email communications discoverable, I am more confident than ever we will ultimately get the full truth about what happened,” said Osborne, R-Prospect. “I’m disgusted by this entire mess and want to reassure Kentucky taxpayers that we remain committed to our actual work — solving the pension crisis and preparing for our upcoming budget session of the General Assembly.”

In her suit, Olivo said Wills and others have retaliated against her in recent weeks since the sexual harassment scandal publicly broke and Hoover resigned as speaker. Blaming her for Hoover’s downfall, they effectively have stripped her of her duties, she said.

“She likes her job. She’s always done a good job. She’s always had a good relationship with the people around her and with the media,” said Olivo’s attorney, Shane Sidebottom of Covington. “But the escalating threats have been making it impossible for her to continue like this.”

Wills did not return a call seeking comment on Monday.

Olivo said her colleague told her that the “secret settlement” that resolved the harassment complaint against Hoover and the three other lawmakers was constructed “to avoid media scrutiny, and it was paid off the public record with private funds pooled from prominent campaign donors.”

The other three representatives named in the House aide’s demand letter were Rep. Brian Linder of Dry Ridge, Rep. Michael Meredith of Oakland and Rep. Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green. All have been temporarily stripped of committee chairmanships, but, like Hoover, they retain their House seats. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has called for all four men, including Hoover, to resign from the General Assembly.

“As governor, I sincerely want to know why anyone in Kentucky, regardless of political party, thinks that it is OK for sexual harassment to be tolerated from an elected official,” Bevin tweeted Saturday evening after he failed to convince the Republican Party of Kentucky to back his call for the resignations.

Olivo’s suit does not name the aide. The Herald-Leader does not generally identify alleged victims of sexual harassment unless they wish to be identified.

In his resignation speech on Nov, 5, Hoover acknowledged that he “engaged in inappropriate text messages” with a legislative staffer in his office. But he said he never engaged in “unwelcome or unwanted conduct” and added that “at no time were there ever any sexual relations of any kind.”

However, in her suit, Olivo said she spoke at length with the House aide about her relationship with Hoover. Olivo said the aide shared “a written timeline of ‘events’ between (the aide) and Speaker Hoover, including the physical and sexual encounters. … (The aide) proceeded to share … three years of text messages that she maintained with Hoover as well as a detailed timeline of physical, sexual encounters that she had engaged in with the speaker, both during work hours and outside of work hours.”

State Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, announced he will step down from his leadership role in the Kentucky House of Representatives on Nov. 5, 2017.

Olivo said in her suit that she had disapproved of the couple’s relationship. She initially was under the impression that it was consensual, although Hoover is a married man with grown children, and as House speaker, he was co-head of the legislature, along with Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester.

Olivo said she became concerned for the House aide in February after Wills, Hoover’s chief of staff, announced in a private meeting that she intended to “create a path to terminate” the aide because she believed the aide was the aggressor and had forced a “submissive” Hoover into their relationship.

Olivo said she objected to Wills’ plan at the time, but it was put on hold while the aide went on military leave for four months. As the aide was preparing to return from military leave, she called Olivo and said she did not think she could come back to the state House because “she now views it as an environment of sexual harassment created by Speaker Hoover,” Olivo said in her suit.

On Sept. 5, Olivo said, she confronted Hoover in a 90-minute conversation about his relationship with the aide, as well as the “hostile work environment” being created by Wills. She followed that up ten days later in a meeting with Wills and Republican House Caucus general counsel Laura Hendrix, she said. She later had additional meetings with LRC managers, as well.

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Throughout October, Olivo and the House aide regularly communicated about the sexual harassment allegations, Olivo said. The aide shared text messages from Hoover and discussed intimate details of their relationship, and she warned Olivo that Hoover and Wills “stated that (Olivo) would lose her job,” Olivo said.

On Nov. 2, after the sexual harassment settlement was publicly revealed, Wills sent Olivo a one-sentence email instructing her to refer all media inquiries for the speaker’s office to another staff member “until further notice.” From that day forward, Olivo said, she has been alternatively ignored or harried at the Capitol as part of a campaign of retaliation.

For example, she said, state Rep. John “Bam” Carney, R-Campbellsville, has tried to take her picture with a co-worker without her knowledge. Also this month, House budget director Frank Willey refused to provide her with information about the ongoing state pension negotiations that is crucial to her job of communicating on behalf of the 64 House Republicans, she said.

“Willey informed (Olivo) that there would be no information to share with her and that he would not email her information in the future, based on her intention to ‘twist facts’ and ‘pit people against one another,’” Olivo said.

“Willey went on further and alluded to (Olivo) that she was just like the governor in always twisting the truth, and (he) referenced the governor’s comments on teachers hoarding sick days and alluded that this type of behavior was the cause of Rep. Hoover losing his speakership and that he wouldn’t work with her in the future to avoid exposing himself to the same type of damage,” Olivo said.

Willey declined to comment Monday. Carney did not respond to a request for comment.

John Cheves: 859-231-3266, @BGPolitics

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