Denney: Politics led to inquiry of wife

Gov. Otter says he intervened to make sure the former speaker’s wife got a fair shake in an employment dispute.

dpopkey@idahostatesman.comMarch 12, 2014 

  • What’s this about?

    The 2014 secretary of state’s race includes two candidates — Lawerence Denney and Mitch Toryanski — whose wives were involved in an employment dispute that prompted a nine-month Idaho State Police investigation in 2011. Also in the GOP race are Ada County Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane and former Sen. Evan Frasure. Rep. Holli Woodings of Boise is running as a Democrat.

    After Donna Denney left her job at the Idaho Commission on Aging in December 2010, another employee moved into her former office and discovered a My State USA software manual and three thumb drives with My State USA labor invoices, documents and other material. My State USA coordinates and disseminates such emergency information as Amber Alerts and weather warnings. The company has a contract with the Idaho Military Division and has received about $340,000 from the state since 2009.

    But the Commission on Aging had never done business with the company. Kim Toryanski, then the Idaho Commission on Aging director, contacted Idaho State Police to determine whether Denney was doing work for a private company during her state job or had misused official databases. Two weeks after ISP Detective Bret Kessinger started his investigation, Toryanski resigned as director of the commission to take a job as deputy director at the Idaho Division of Human Resources. According to the detective, she left primarily because of “political pressures, particularly from Speaker Denney and his political allies.”

    The Denneys’ lawyer, David Leroy, said there was no pressure at all applied to Toryanski.

    After a nine-month investigation, the detective closed the case in January 2012 with no charges filed. Even though Donna Denney used her state computer and state email account to conduct personal business, likely while on the job, that’s generally not a crime in Idaho. Theft of money or equipment is illegal under Idaho law, but “theft of time” is not, according to ISP. Upon closing the case, the Idaho State Police destroyed the evidence it had collected.

    Six months later, in July 2012, the detective was called into Col. Jerry Russell’s office. The state police director asked him to write a memo summarizing the Denney investigation and to talk to Donna Denney, who had never been interviewed during the investigation. Denney refused to be interviewed, but several months later her attorney submitted affidavits to ISP stating that she did nothing wrong.

    ISP concluded the case was unfounded and closed it a second time in January 2013.

    Cynthia Sewell

Former House Speaker Lawerence Denney says he believes the reopening of an Idaho State Police investigation into his wife’s conduct as a state employee was motivated by Gov. Butch Otter’s desire to see Denney ousted from his position.

“To my way of thinking, only the governor would be able to do that,” Denney said Tuesday. “But that’s my opinion. I think it was for political purposes.”

Otter countered that he suggested reviving the criminal investigation in July 2012 to make sure that police interviewed Denney’s wife, Donna.

When the case was reopened, Denney, R-Midvale, was fighting to continue his six-year reign as speaker, challenged by then-Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley. Denney was a powerful opponent of Otter’s plan to ask lawmakers to approve a state-run health insurance exchange; Bedke was an Otter ally.

In January 2012, after a nine-month investigation, ISP Detective Bret Kessinger had closed the inquiry into Donna Denney’s moonlighting job while she was a full-time employee of the Idaho Commission on Aging.

Kessinger had found no evidence that she committed a crime and failed “to accumulate enough evidence to reach some minimal threshold of probable cause to apply for a search warrant for Donna Denney’s personal computer,” he wrote in a July 25, 2012, follow-up report.

Donna Denney wasn’t interviewed, Kessinger wrote, “due to the fact that the only thing I could conclusively prove” was that she held a second job while working for the state.

In July 2012, Kessinger was ordered by Col. Jerry Russell, Otter’s appointee as director of the Idaho State Police, to re-examine the case and interview Donna Denney. Russell also told Kessinger to write a memo describing his inquiry. Kessinger later called Russell’s orders “a real head-scratcher” and said he’d never been asked to do something of the sort in his 16-year career.

Kessinger’s report, released to the Idaho Statesman under Idaho’s Public Records Act, was a key document in a full-page story in Sunday’s newspaper.

LETTING DONNA DENNEY SPEAK

Told of Lawerence Denney’s statement Tuesday, Otter said his aim was to ensure that Donna Denney was treated fairly.

“If you’re accused of something, you need to be able to say, ‘Well, no, that isn’t exactly right, this is right, and here’s my evidence to show my innocence,’ ” Otter said Tuesday.

Otter said he read Kessinger’s 2011 incident report and then “gave it to the lawyers” — the governor’s legal counsel, Tom Perry, and Chief of Staff David Hensley, also a lawyer.

“They read it and they said, ‘Well, where’s the interview with Donna?’ ” Otter recalled.

After Hensley communicated with Russell and learned that there was no Denney interview, Otter said Hensley told Russell, “Well, you gotta interview her. She’s got to be able to defend herself.”

Rep. Denney said he has trouble buying Otter’s explanation.

“I don’t know why she would want a chance to talk when the case was closed,” he said.

Russell said Tuesday that he was in contact with Hensley but felt “no pressure whatsoever” from the governor’s office about reopening the investigation.

“My concern was she needed to be contacted,” Russell told the Statesman. “Just to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.”

Donna Denney was never interviewed; instead, she submitted affidavits with the assistance of her lawyer, former Attorney General David Leroy.

Leroy took five months to reply to questions from ISP, finally responding a month after Denney was defeated in the speaker’s race.

Shortly after receiving the affidavits, the police closed the case a second time.

POLITICAL MOTIVES?

In 2012, the Statesman made initial inquiries about the Donna Denney investigation but didn’t publish a story. After Rep. Denney announced his candidacy for secretary of state in October, the ISP investigation resurfaced, prompting the newspaper to take another look.

Russell, who retired in January 2013, said Tuesday that undercutting Denney was not a factor at ISP.

“I am not involved in any of the politics whatsoever,” he said.

Rep. Denney said he believes that Otter intervened in July 2012 “probably for the speaker’s race” in support of Bedke, who defeated Denney in a vote of the GOP caucus in December 2012.

Now in a four-way GOP primary to become Idaho’s chief elections officer, Denney declined to comment on where his support lies for governor — Otter’s bid for a third term or the challenge from Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher.

Of his relationship with Otter, Denney said: “I’m not angry about it. I’m going to run my race.”

Denney said that he was pleased with Sunday’s Statesman story, which also covered the role of Kim Toryanski, Donna Denney’s supervisor at the Commission on Aging and the wife of one of Denney’s primary opponents, former Sen. Mitch Toryanski.

Kim Toryanski asked the state police to investigate after Donna Denny left the agency in 2010.

“In my personal observation, after multiple interviews with (Kim) Toryanski, it appears that this case may have sprung from a relationship of mutual distaste one for another between (Kim) Toryanski and (Donna) Denney,” Kessinger wrote in July 2012.

“I’m happy that that’s out there because there were rumors flying around here,” Rep. Denney said Tuesday. “And, basically, I think the police report just said that there was nothing there.”

Denney said he has no reason to suspect Bedke had any influence on the investigation.

Only Otter, Denney said, had the power to press Russell to reopen the case. “No one else could have asked them to do it and have them do it,” Denney said. “So, no, I don’t think (Bedke) had anything to do with it.”

Bedke said Tuesday that he was unaware the case was reopened in the summer of 2012, which was when he was traveling the state to convince GOP lawmakers to help him become the first challenger to unseat a sitting speaker since at least the 1920s.

Bedke said he played no role in pressing the investigation. “Unequivocally, no,” he said.

Cynthia Sewell contributed to this report.

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

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