A state legislator who signed a bipartisan ethics complaint against one of his GOP House colleagues is now finding himself in the public eye and blaming retribution by his own party leaders for it.
Rep. Steve Mascaro, R-West Jordan, says he did nothing wrong when he tried to console an upset female intern during the 2008 Legislature.
"I can't believe that the (leaders of the Republican Party) would stoop this low" as to leak the incident involving him to the news media. The Deseret News is not identifying sources who told the newspaper about the incident, but Mascaro said he believes he knows who has talked about it.
Two different sources, one inside the Legislature, another outside the Legislature, told the Deseret News about an incident involving Mascaro and a female intern, which was reported by the young woman to legislative staffers. Later, legislative staffers met with Mascaro and House leaders to discuss it. No formal action was asked for and none was taken, Mascaro said.
Contacted by the newspaper, the intern said she is angry that her complaint about improper conduct has been made public. The Deseret News is not identifying the intern.
"I never would have made the complaint I was promised it would never come out," she said.
First, the internal politics that put Mascaro and several other House members at odds with some House members:
Mascaro and Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful; and Reps. Roz McGee, D-Salt Lake; Neil Hansen, D-Ogden; and Phil Riesen, D-Holladay; filed an ethics complaint last week against state Rep. Mark Walker, R-Sandy.
The GOP state treasurer's race this year pitted Walker against chief deputy treasurer Richard Ellis. Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and most of the House and Senate GOP leadership backed Walker. After a bitter campaign, Ellis beat Walker 59-41 percent in the June 24 primary. But just after the May state GOP convention, Ellis charged that Walker had tried to bribe him last March by promising Ellis he could keep his treasurer's office job and even get a pay raise if Ellis would drop out of the GOP nomination race.
Walker denies any wrongdoing. But Shurtleff's office has now appointed two independent prosecutors to look into the matter.
Meanwhile, separate from that investigation, the five House members filed an ethics complaint against Walker as it would be a breach in legislative ethics if what Ellis charges Walker with actually took place. The Ethics Committee's first meeting on the Walker complaint is Monday.
Mascaro and Allen have already been labeled as "dissident Republicans" by House Speaker Greg Curtis, who adds that both have been wooed to jump parties and join the House Democrats.
Here is an abbreviated version of what happened, according to Mascaro: One night during the 2008 Legislature, when most of the public and lawmakers had left the Capitol, he was walking to his fourth-floor office when he saw a female intern (most interns are college students in their late teens or early 20s) "who was clearly upset and agitated."
He asked if she was OK. She said she was having problems with male interns who were asking her out on dates and sending her flowers. Mascaro said he told her it all would work out, be OK. But then the young woman said something to lead Mascaro to believe that she was in real emotional pain. "She said something like she had 'pills' that could get her out of the situation, if need be."
Concerned, Mascaro said he told her that "pills" were no answer for anything. She said she needed to talk to someone. He said he needed to put his papers away in his office and she followed him to the private office provided to committee chairmen, which in the newly remodeled Capitol are single rooms opening to a public hallway.
She followed him into his office, where in talking about her concerns at one point she touched his hand. Mascaro said he got worried, didn't like what was happening, and told her she had to leave. He took her by the hand and led her to the door. Mascaro said he immediately had a bad feeling about the incident, and told his wife about it when he got home.
The intern that evening then met up with another female intern for a ride back to her college housing being ferried by another legislator. The young woman talked about the incident with Mascaro during the ride, and the other legislator said she had to report it internally to the legislative staff who oversee the interns. She said she was hesitant but later agreed and was interviewed by legislative staffers.
Mascaro said he was called into a meeting with Curtis, R-Sandy, and two legislative staffers.
"I told them I was willing to go as far as necessary to clear this up. I offered to take a lie-detector test. They said there was an allegation of an embrace between the two of us (he and the female intern) that's absolutely untrue, never happened. I didn't do anything (in his office) that I wouldn't do on the floor of the House with everyone" watching, said Mascaro.
He said he feels badly for the young woman, whom he saw one more time in the hallways, and she seemed fine to him then. "But I was worried about her that night, when she said she had pills, and I just was not going to walk away from that" although in hindsight he sees the problem that he created for her and himself.
The incident did become a rumor during the session. Mascaro's intern told the newspaper he was asked about it by a female intern, who wondered if anything had really happened (she was not the intern involved in the incident). But knowing nothing about it, Mascaro's intern told the young woman he doubted it ever did happen. Mascaro's intern said he did not discuss it with Mascaro.
Said Mascaro: "For this to be used against me now" because, as he sees it, of his ethics complaint against Walker, "is unbelievable."The female intern involved in the incident told the newspaper she would have "no comment at this time" but said that Mascaro's recollection is a bit different than her own about what happened. In any case, she said she felt betrayed that the incident has now come to light, saying she would never have said anything about it to legislative staffers if she believed it would become public.
E-mail: [email protected]