Record sexual harassment settlement exposes byzantine congressional process
by Leigh Ann Caldwell Dec 17 2017
by Leigh Ann Caldwell Dec 17 2017
WASHINGTON — Of all the secret deals cut on behalf of accused members of congress, the one that resulted in the largest settlement yet uncovered may be the most surprising. The details provide a window into a process so opaque, convoluted and confusing that even the accused congressman was left in the dark about exactly how and why his accuser ended up being paid $220,000 for her claim.
With new harassment accusations being revealed on a nearly daily basis in Congress, documents obtained by NBC News from this one case shed light on how taxpayer money ends up being used to essentially sweep such incidents under a bureaucratic rug with little accountability....
In 2011, Winsome Packer, a congressional staffer who worked for the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (known as the Helsinki Commission) filed a complaint against the commission, alleging that its chairman at the time, Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., made unwanted sexual advances toward her and that she was threatened with retaliation.
The details of Packer’s specific allegations are recorded in the complaint she also brought in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Publicly filed court documents in that lawsuit show that Packer alleged that she “was forced to endure” repeated “unwelcome sexual advances, crude sexual comments and unwelcome touching” by Hastings. In describing the incidents, Packer alleged that Hastings had hugged her multiple times, sometimes in front of witnesses at public events, pressing his whole body against her, and his face to her face.
Packer also claimed that after she complained to the commission’s staff director, she was subject to threats of retaliation by both the director and Hastings himself, including “threats of termination.”
Hastings, who has been in Congress since 1993, has denied Packer’s allegations. He called them “malicious” and “absolutely false” in a letter obtained by NBC News....
The Office of Congressional Ethics referred the matter to the House Ethics Committee in 2010. After reviewing more than one thousand pages of documents and interviewing eight witnesses, the committee closed the case after finding that while the congressman admitted to having made some unprofessional comments, it had found “no additional evidence supporting [Packer’s ] allegations.” ....
Packer eventually received a settlement payment of $220,000, an amount confirmed by documents reviewed by NBC News and the largest known about since the Congressional Accountability Act was passed in 1995.
One document obtained by NBC News details early draft terms of Packer’s settlement, and it is one of few such documents that have become public. The others have not been released because confidentiality requirements, established by Congress and signed into federal law as the Congressional Accountability Act, bind accuser, accused and other legal entities from disclosing any terms or details.
Despite these confidentiality requirements, Packer said she had decided to speak out because the environment has changed for accusers and she has little to lose. Packer, 60, who worked for the commission from 2007 until 2014, said she has not worked since the settlement was reached nearly four years ago, and is now living with her sister in Florida. ...
Congress has wrestled with these issues in a more urgent way since the recent wave of sexual misconduct allegations began sweeping through virtually every sector of America over the past months, including several high-profile cases that have brought down members of the House and Senate.
Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., chairman of the House Administration Committee, told NBC News that he will introduce bipartisan legislation next week to reform the entire adjudication process for accusers and the accused as a way to provide more transparency to the public....
Attorney still waiting on expert report in sex cult abuse case
By FELIX SARVERE Dec. 14, 2017
JOLIET – A five-year-old case involving a woman charged with sexual abuse of an underage boy as part of a sex cult ritual may come closer to concluding next year.
On Thursday, Daniel Locallo, attorney for Margarita Hernandez, 38, a former Troy Township Democratic committeewoman charged with aggravated criminal sexual abuse, told a Will County judge he was still waiting to receive a report from a psychological expert on Hernandez that could be used at trial or for legal mitigation....
Hernandez was arrested in October 2012 after her 81-year-old boyfriend John Gabriel was investigated by the FBI for teen sex videos made at their home. She has been free on bond.
Since her arrest in 2012, the case has yet to go trial. The case was scheduled for jury trial at least twice, according to court records.
Gabriel, a retired journalist for The Times Weekly and Weekly Reporter, recorded sexual activities of Hernandez and others, which he claimed was a religious ritual, according to court files.
Will County prosecutors have said video was seized of Hernandez having sex with two boys who appear younger than 18.
Gabriel was convicted in 2015 of manufacturing child pornography for making videos allegedly showing Hernandez having sex with teenage boys. He was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.