By Joel Thurtell
Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers is the target of an FBI investigation, according to the July 1, 2008 Detroit Free Press.
The FBI is looking into her role in a city sludge contract. But Monica Conyers has a history. As the wife of a congressman who was ranking minority member of the powerful House judiciary Committee, she managed to finagle what you and I would consider taxpayer-subsidized babysitting and law school tutoring services from congressional aides working on the government clock. Hubby is now chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
This article appears with permission of the Detroit Free Press
(c) 2006, Detroit Free Press.
Publication Date: 01-MAR-06
Headline: AIDES: CONYERS MADE US BABYSIT
Sub-Head: FORMER STAFFERS AIRING COMPLAINTS
Byline: BY JOEL THURTELL AND RUBY L. BAILEY FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS
Memo: SIDEBARS ATTACHED
Text: Three former aides to U.S. Rep. John Conyers say the longtime Detroit congressman made them act as personal gofers and valets while they were supposed to be working in his Detroit-area offices.
Conyers ordered them to act as personal servants, tutoring and babysitting his two sons, helping his wife with a law class, and chauffeuring him to political and private events and picking up tabs at restaurants and motels, they said in interviews Wednesday and in complaints filed with the House Ethics Committee that were released this week.
The former Conyers employees who made the complaints are Deanna Maher, who was chief of staff of Conyers’ Downriver office in Southgate until May 31; Sydney Rooks, who was Conyers’ legal counsel from 1997 to 2000; and Dean Christian Thornton, a legislative aide who was fired in January.
Maher, who was a key unidentified source in a Free Press story published in November 2003 in which staffers alleged they were forced to work on political campaigns on government time, recently decided to go public with her charges.
Conyers was not available for comment Wednesday but his lawyer Stanley Brand, in Washington, said the congressman responded to the ethics committee’s questions two years ago when the committee began examining the allegations in the Free Press report.
“We have been fully forthcoming,” Brand said. The committee, which does not comment on pending investigations, could be continuing the probe “or decided it had no merit,” Brand said.
Brand would not address the allegations against Conyers.
“I’m not going to get into responding to these things,” he said.
Ethics committee rules prohibit members from using congressional funds to pay staffers for “nonofficial, personal or campaign activities on behalf of the member, the employee or anyone else.”
But vague job descriptions could leave room for the occasional personal request, said Peter Sepp, vice president of communications for the National Taxpayers Union, a Virginia-based watchdog group.
Maher said she reported Conyers because he was a hypocrite.
“The congressional members are supposed to be working for the people, for their constituents, and government has not been doing that,” Maher said Wednesday from her home in Holland.
Maher, 66, retired May 31 after working for the congressman for seven years.
Both Maher and Thornton have sent letters to the House Ethics Committee detailing the chores they performed at Conyers’ behest and also outlining chores done by other staffers.
Rooks, who now works for the nonprofit Cass Community Services in Detroit, said Wednesday that she talked to ethics committee staff about her concerns in 1999 and again in 2004 and plans to soon submit a formal complaint.
Conyers in 1998 summoned Maher to his house on 7 Mile in Detroit and ordered her to live there while his wife, Monica Conyers, attended law classes in Oklahoma, she told the Free Press. For six weeks, Maher said, she was a resident in the Conyers home taking care of Conyers’ two young sons while their mother was away.
This work was done on government time or Maher’s personal time. Maher said she drove the two boys to and from school at Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills in her own car, paying for the gas herself. When the boys were at school, Maher said, she stayed at the house, cleaning and doing laundry.
After picking up the boys at school, she brought them home, helped them with their class work, cooked meals for them and put them to bed.
Of Maher, Rooks said, “Mr. Conyers used her as a full-time live-in nanny for the boys during several weeks in 1998 while paying her regular part-time congressional salary.”
Rooks, too, said Conyers ordered her to tutor one of his sons.
For a full school year in 1997-98, Rooks said, one son would be picked up at Cranbrook by another staffer or by Rooks and brought back to the congressman’s office suite in the federal building, where Rooks would tutor him.
“I would go out of my way to talk to the kids – I like the kids a lot,” said Rooks. Later, she found “that is one of the reasons Conyers hired me.”
Rooks said Conyers also assigned her to help his wife, Monica Conyers, now a Detroit councilwoman, with her law school studies. Other attorneys in the
Washington offices of the Judiciary Committee, where Conyers is the ranking minority member and heads a large staff, were required to tutor her as well, said Rooks.
Sam Riddle, spokesman for Monica Conyers, said Wednesday that the councilwoman denies all the allegations.
“These are simply disgruntled employees who couldn’t cut it in the workplace,” he said.
While Thornton could not be reached to comment for this story, the Free Press did obtain his Jan. 15, 2004, letter to the ethics committee.
In it, he wrote that “my duties have been expected to not only chauffeur the congressman, but his children, his wife, other staff and any visitors” in addition to picking up “cleaning, organizing his personal belongings, lifting and carting heavy items.”
“I was always on call with him all day long,” said Thornton. “I was running around picking up his dry cleaning.”
Former Conyers staffer Paul Donahue, who is retired and worked in the offices of three Michigan congressmen, said Wednesday asking staffers to do personal chores is not unusual.
“It’s so common that nobody pays any attention to it,” said Donahue, who now lives in North Carolina. “Most people probably don’t realize it’s illegal.”
Congress prohibits its members from:
â€¢Requiring their employees to perform nonofficial, personal or campaign duties.â€¢Retaining staffers who do not perform official duties commensurate with the compensation received.
But there are ways around some of the rules:
â€¢Staffers can work on the campaigns of their bosses or other politicians if they take a leave of absence and are not paid with congressional funds. They may be compensated with campaign funds.
â€¢Individual members establish duties for their employees. The definition of an official duty is not explicitly stated.
Some U.S. House ethics violations
â€¢U.S. Rep. Charles Diggs, a Detroit Democrat, was censured by the House in 1979 after his conviction for taking kickbacks from employees. He resigned in 1980.
â€¢U.S. Rep. James Traficant, an Ohio Democrat, was expelled from the House after his conviction in 2002 on nine counts of racketeering, bribery and tax evasion. He was found guilty of requiring staff members to do personal chores for him and kicking back to him a portion of their paychecks.
â€¢In 1995, the Ethics Committee found “credible evidence” that U.S. Rep. Barbara-Rose Collins, a Detroit Democrat and now a city councilwoman, had committed 11 violations of ethics rules, including using campaign funds for personal use. She also was accused of using staffers as chauffeurs. Collins lost her 1996 re-election bid, and the committee did not take action.