Ethics Inquiries Called for Delaware Legislators
FightDECorruption.com is a non-partisan organization of Delaware citizens who agree on the need to build honesty and trust in government. As a citizen watchdog we have filed six “complaints” of possible ethics violations by four members of the Delaware General Assembly.
In 2015, then Attorney General Matt Denn created the Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust (DCRPT) in the Delaware Department of Justice (DOJ). In 2020. Kathy Jennings elevated DCRPT to a permanent Division with Deputy Attorney General status and provided the Division with greater independence. Cases of public corruption are clearly part of DCRPT’s mandate which includes:
“Enforcement of laws designed to ensure citizen trust in government, including election laws, laws governing the use of public funds, and laws governing the conduct of public employees and officials.”
We received guidance from DOJ to submit these “complaints” one at a time using the DOJ web portal. DOJ also clarified that they would only take action if there was a violation of Delaware law and they shared with us the “Offenses Against Public Administration” which are the basis for our “Calls for Inquiry”.
The “Offenses Against Public Administration” are part of the Delaware Criminal Code. Five of the six complaints filed are for “Abuse of Office” and one is for “profiteering” or insider trading. Both of these offenses are class A misdemeanors. A class A misdemeanor is the most serious type of misdemeanor in Delaware, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine up to $2,300. The court may also order the defendant to pay restitution.
“Abuse of Office” occurs when a legislator “performs official functions in a way intended to benefit the public servant’s own property or financial interests…”. This is a classic form of public corruption commonly referred to as self-dealing or “feathering your own nest”.
Examples of Abuse of Power
For example, as Nicole Poore and Valerie Longhurst ascended to leadership positions in the General Assembly, both women landed high level executive jobs with non-profit agencies primarily funded by the state. In 2018, Poore’s non-profit compensation was $102,000, and Longhurst earned $75,000. This is in addition to their state salaries.
Our “Call for an Inquiry” also documents substantial increases in state funding obtained by these agencies following their employment of Longhurst and Poore as top executives. If these women used their legislative positions to secure their lucrative jobs and/or gain additional funding for their agencies, they could be guilty of “Abuse of Power”.
On the last day of the 2018 legislative session, Mike Ramone used the leverage of the minority caucus to pass the “Youth and Training Wage” providing a lower minimum wage for workers under 18. On the floor of the House, he pleaded his case based on the benefit to his own company. Here’s a link to an audio recording of the floor debate including Mike Ramone’s statement below 9:42—10:20.
“A second portion to this amendment would be what’s called a youth wage. A youth wage would be a great example for like our pool management company. We have a lot of children, a lot of young people 15, 16, 17 being lifeguards, kind of learning how to do it…”
Mike Ramone’s official bio states that he and his wife “currently own six successful businesses and employ over 200 individuals throughout the year.” The Ramone businesses include multiple swim and fitness centers which primarily employ young people.
At the end of the 2019 General Assembly session, Senator Trey Paradee sponsored a bill which would have channeled $1 million in annual lodging tax revenue to DETurf which is a private entity. After the News Journal discovered that the Senator’s brother, John Paradee, owned the 21-acre Asbury Square development adjacent to DETurf, the Senator acknowledged the conflict of interest and the bill was repealed.
Our Research Process
FightDECorruption.com identified these cases through media reports. This research involved pulling together multiple press articles and connecting the dots to create a more comprehensive perspective of legislative wrongdoing. Multiple issues were identified for three of the four legislators profiled on the website.
More in-depth research was undertaken in some cases. For example, data from the State Online Checkbook, the Grant in Aid budget, and non-profit IRS filings was used to document substantial increases in state funding for the non-profit agencies headed by Longhurst and Poore.
The information provided in the website profiles is more extensive than the “Complaints” filed with DOJ. Not all the ethical lapses documented on the website are clear violations of the “Offenses Against Public Administration”.
For example, when Longhurst was a member of the PAL Board, PAL “laundered” a $40,000 grant for Theo Gregory’s agency and the State Auditor disallowed PAL from receiving funds from the Wilmington City Council.
Likewise, when Mike Ramone joined the Board of the Delaware Board of Trade, the company established a Cayman Islands limited liability company which is usually a tactic to avoid taxes. While this seems inappropriate for a Delaware legislator, it may not fall under the “Offenses Against Public Administration”.
These “Complaints” were also submitted to the US Attorney for the District of Delaware. A representative from the US Attorney’s office informed us that our documents should be targeted at DOJ.
Calling for Official Inquiry
This website is not the prosecutor and we have no capability to issue charges or indictments. However, the publicly available documentation compiled in these “Complaints” offers strong evidence of abuse and self dealing. Each “Complaint” has a section citing potential violations of Delaware Law including common sense explanations of potential abuses which call for official inquiry.