Lobbyist Gary Husk, who has claimed he was wrongly identified as the architect of the Fiesta Bowl scandal, implicated his former employees of wrongdoing Tuesday in pursuit of repairing his reputation.
Husk, who spoke out in a 45-minute interview Jan. 14 with his team of lawyers and public relations people present, denied all wrongdoing in connection with the Fiesta Bowl and an unrelated 15-count indictment associated with his business, Husk Partners Inc., both of which involved straw contributions.
As for the indictment and subsequent guilty plea, Husk said his employees, lobbyists at Husk Partners Inc., took it upon themselves to seek reimbursement for their political contributions by taking advantage of an unwitting office manager who didn’t verify their expenses and he failed in his oversight of the business.
He said the employees were all veteran lobbyists who should have known what they were doing was illegal.
Husk pleaded guilty Jan. 13 to a misdemeanor count of conspiring with former employees to funnel illegal political contributions. The fifteen felony counts of making prohibited contributions were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
Most employees named in the indictment as giving the illegal contributions either declined comment for this story because they simply want to put the matter behind them, or did not immediately return calls. The employees claimed to investigators they were unaware reimbursement for their political contributions was illegal and they trusted that Husk, a lawyer, was steering them right, according to reports. One employee pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of failing to report a lobbying expenditure and agreed to cooperate in the case against Husk, while three others weren’t charged and also agreed to cooperate.
One former employee, Dean Miller, did comment, saying that in the final analysis Husk was indicted and the employees who cooperated were never at risk of being charged.
His former employees told investigators they would give a contribution and a check would appear on their desks a few days or weeks later, according to investigative reports. The $4,320 in contributions were made between 2007 and 2010 to various candidates for city council, county board of supervisors, the Legislature, and Gov. Jan Brewer, and ranged from $140 to $200.
Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, said reimbursement checks were signed by both Husk and the office manager.
Husk said he was speaking out to quash accusations he was the mastermind of the Fiesta Bowl scandal in which bowl employees were reimbursed roughly $46,000 for their contributions from 2000 to 2010.
An eight-month investigation by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery in 2011 led to no charges against any lawmakers who were recipients of the contributions and other gifts from the bowl. An Attorney General investigation has led to eight indictments, mostly bowl employees and misdemeanor counts. Investigators with the Attorney General and FBI raided Husk’s office in January 2012 looking for proof of his involvement in the Fiesta Bowl scheme.
Husk said the “rumors, innuendo and false accusations” surrounding his role in the Fiesta Bowl devastated his lobbying business.
“I was in fact damaged goods as a consequence of that, and unfairly so,” Husk said. “If I’m upset by anything, it’s taken four years to get here.”
In a previous court proceeding, Husk was publicly accused of orchestrating the scandal by Stephen Dichter, attorney for former Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker. Junker’s plea agreement alleged Lobbyist C, who many believe refers to Husk, devised the scheme.
“You shouldn’t destroy someone’s life based on false accusations,” Husk said.
One of his attorneys, former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, said those characterizations concerned him, so he provided the Attorney General with several pieces of evidence to show he didn’t cook up the scheme, including Junker’s own words.
Junker pleaded guilty in 2012 in state and federal courts to fraud and will be sentenced in March to up to 2½ years in prison.
Junker told investigators in a June 2012 interview that he was the architect, but Husk was “well aware of it.” Junker was unable to provide investigators with any documents or other proof of Husk’s involvement, according to an audio recording of the interview.
“At some point he advised me how he did it with his staff,” Junker said.
Junker told investigators Husk overpaid his employees and directed them to give the extra wages as political contributions.
Husk also took a swipe at the Attorney General’s Office.
His attorneys said the prosecutors wanted a conspiracy charge on the plea deal to “save face” for the office, and that prosecutors were trying to leverage him by threatening to convene a grand jury on Jan. 14 for potentially serious charges “with no juice to back it up” related to the Fiesta Bowl.
Grisham said she could not ethically comment on those claims because the case is pending sentencing. Judge Margaret Mahoney will sentence Husk Jan. 27.
The Attorney General agreed not to charge Husk with any crimes in connection to the bowl as part of the plea deal, which also calls for no jail time, a sentence of up to three years of probation and he must pay $30,000 in restitution.
“The fact of the matter is that the day after Mr. Husk pled guilty to a crime and admitted to orchestrating an illegal campaign contribution conspiracy, he is on a clear damage control campaign,” Grisham said.