Crapo, other politicians part of year's Idaho lowlights

Chobani and Boise State football also have moments worth forgetting.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESSDecember 29, 2013 

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo had reigned as Idaho's senior legislative emissary to Washington, D.C., a man whose peerless career stretching from Harvard Law School to the Capitol was presumably beyond reproach.

Until it wasn't.

First, the three-term Republican pleaded guilty Jan. 4 after a drunken driving arrest. Lonely nights in Washington, D.C., away from family, coupled with the stress of the job, had turned a Mormon teetotaler into a closet drinker who, according to his admission, made the ill-advised decision to slide behind the wheel of his car for a head-clearing nocturnal drive to Virginia.

Then in May, the member of the Senate's Banking and Finance committees announced that a former campaign staffer had in 2008 invested $250,000 in campaign donors' contributions in a company called, of all things, Blueberry Guru, which in turn blew the cash in a Las Vegas get-rich-quick real estate scheme.

The money was stolen, Crapo said. Only this year, he said, did he report the matter to the Federal Election Commission, after acknowledging that he was likely never to get it back.

Crapo acknowledged not keeping a close enough eye on his re-election organization's financial house. The damage was done, though Crapo now insists that holes in his campaign's system of due diligence have been filled, including with the addition of a new treasurer.

"Every time somebody makes a move within the campaign today, it's noted by the treasurer - just like it should have been back then," said Lindsay Nothern, Crapo's spokesman in Boise.

Here are some other stories that qualify as lowlights in Idaho news during 2013:

FIRED, NOT FIRED

Pocatello High School girls basketball coach Laraine Cook was fired over a photograph posted on her Facebook page that showed another district employee, her fiance, touching her bikini-clad chest. The guy doing the touching was Pocatello football coach Tom Harrison, an Idaho High School Football Hall of Fame coach. He wasn't removed from his coaching role for appearing in the photo.

The matter isn't over: Just last week, a grievance panel concluded that Cook should get her job back. District 25 administrators can appeal.

WATCH OUT BELOW

There were undisclosed circumstances surrounding the Boise State football team's dismissal of quarterback Joe Southwick ahead of the Hawaii Bowl. Then Southwick went on the offensive, saying that at least three of his teammates lied that he had urinated off a hotel room balcony - and that coaches barely gave him a chance to defend himself during a 20-minute meeting that preceded the decision to send him packing. Southwick, who has hired a lawyer, says he passed a lie detector test. The Broncos, who were soundly beaten in the Hawaii Bowl, said they stick by their decision to jettison Southwick.

WHAT'S IN MY YOGURT?

Chobani, the New York-based Greek yogurt maker whose big manufacturing facility was lured to Twin Falls last year, found itself on its heels as it tried to clear up a pesky problem. At least 89 people reported getting sick after eating yogurt manufactured in Twin Falls, the Food and Drug Administration reported. Chobani was forced to tell grocery stores to destroy 35 varieties of yogurt reported contaminated by a substance associated with dairy products.

CONTRACT CALAMITY

The state's Your Health Idaho insurance exchange was a political hot potato before executive director Amy Dowd in October awarded a contract worth up to $375,000 to exchange board member Frank Chan - without advertising it first or allowing others to compete for the $180-per-hour work. Dowd initially insisted that the contract was appropriate, but it was eventually canceled. Meanwhile, the exchange board acknowledged judgment lapses, trimmed Dowd's contracting authority and hired an attorney to advise it on how to avoid such situations in the future. The lawyer's $15,000 report was kept secret, however.

JEFFERSON COUNTY FRACAS

First, Lawrence Blackburn, 50, a former Rigby city councilman, was ordered to spend 150 days in jail and 10 years on probation for taking money from the estate of a deceased business client two years ago. Then, the Jefferson County prosecutor, Robin Dunn, was asked to repay nearly $18,000 in legal fees to the county related to a federal lawsuit, on grounds that he'd been paid inappropriately. Now, the Post Register is suing the Jefferson County Commission, contending that its members met illegally about an agreement with Dunn in secret session. That case is still pending.

HISTORY REVISITED

Republican Rep. Brent Crane angered some at the Idaho Capitol when he objected to giving the Nez Perce tribe a special liquor license for a planned convention center, on claims that it would exacerbate what he called the group's historic struggles with alcoholism. Later in the session, Crane bashed the proposed state insurance exchange during debate in which he erroneously used civil rights heroine Rosa Parks to blast the U.S. government. "One little lady got tired of the federal government telling her what to do," Crane said. Parks wasn't fighting the federal government; she was defying a municipal code.

TAMARACK SUITOR

Money manager Matthew Hutcheson emerged suddenly in 2010, proclaiming himself the savior of struggling Tamarack Resort. Out of his $40 million offer to buy the Donnelly vacation getaway came nothing. Worse, prosecutors said he raided $5 million from pension funds to enrich himself, buy luxury cars and further his bid for the resort. This summer, a federal judge sentenced him to 17 years in prison after he was convicted of 17 counts of wire fraud.

LAWMAKER'S WIFE

A federal judge ruled that a state senator's wife overstepped her role as a legal assistant and had an "inappropriate" relationship with a convicted murderer suing the Idaho Department of Correction for sexual harassment. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill wrote that Renee McKenzie, wife of Nampa Sen. Curt McKenzie, had become a "sideshow" and was taking up too much of the court's time and resources. The exact relationship between Renee McKenzie and convicted killer Lance Wood wasn't clear from the judge's order, but prison staff who monitored phone calls said McKenzie told Wood she loved him.

LAWMAKER QUITS

Republican Rep. Mark Patterson resigned from the Idaho Legislature effective Jan. 5 after party colleagues from his Boise district urged him to quit amid revelations that he'd pleaded guilty in 1974 to assault with intent to commit forcible rape. Members of the GOP precinct committee in District 15, which Patterson represents, voted unanimously for him to step down. The 39-year-old case in Florida came to light in early November when the Statesman reported that Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney revoked Patterson's concealed weapons permit on grounds that he didn't disclose the criminal case on his application. Patterson maintained his innocence and contended that Raney was retaliating against him because the sheriff didn't like legislation he'd sponsored during the 2013 session.

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