The Washington Executive Ethics Board fined Lt. Gov. Brad Owen $15,000 Friday for running his private anti-drug program out of his public office.
In a press release, Owen, a Democrat, appeared to accept the fine grudgingly.
"This settlement is agreed to merely to put an end to a frustrating process that does not allow me or any elected official the right to be heard by a jury of our peers as is guaranteed any other citizen. Therefore, any further effort would just take away from the important work of my office. It is imperative that we just move on. This settlement in no way diminishes my commitment or that of my office to the children of Washington state. That important work will continue with vigor,” Owen's statement said.
The fine has $5,000 suspended with the assumption of no future ethics infractions, with the remaining $10,000 to be paid in monthly installments over two years.
Owen’s high office in state government weighed against him in determining the size of the fine, but the ethics board ruling also noted that Owen's program had a positive effect on children.
While a state senator, Owen founded Strategies For Youth as a non-profit group that went around to schools to preach an anti-drug message. It featured a rock band with Owen on guitar. He continued that program when he was elected lieutenant governor in 1996.
In 2003, the lieutenant governor's office staff began helping Strategies For Youth with its scheduling, according to the ethics board's findings. That year, the lieutenant governor's office attorneys advised Owen to sign a contract between his office and Strategies For Youth. No copy of that contract was found during the ethics board's 2012-2014 investigation,
Meanwhile, Brent Pendleton, a member of Strategies For Youth, worked for the program for $36,000 annually and for $24,000 later, because the group's revenue shrank. In 2009, Owen hired Pendelton as the lieutenant governor's administrative assistant for $36,084 a year while Pendelton hung onto his Strategies For Youth job. From July 2009 to March 2011, Pendelton solicited schools for performances, scheduled performances and assisted performances at the schools for 96 to 98 hours of state-paid time, the ethics board concluded.
Brian Dirks, the lieutenant governor' communications director, assisted with seven Strategies For Youth activities from May 2008 to February 2011, totaling 40 hours of state time. Also, Owen held Strategies For Youth board meetings in the lieutenant governor's office, according to the ethics board.
Strategies For Youth's last school performance was in March 2011 at Lister Elementary School in Tacoma. In February 2012, Strategies For Youth's board met with Owen to dissolve the venture. A projector and as screen were supposed to be donated to the lieutenant governor's office. Pendelton was to receive some final pay. A 2006 pickup truck plus stage, sound and office equipment were supposed to be given to Linda Owen, the lieutenant governor's wife. The total original purchase values between 1989 and 2006 were $93,754. That value depreciated to $10,056 in 2008 for tax purposes.
At that meeting, two Strategies For Youth board members voiced concerns about the public perception of the assets going to Linda Owen, who had worked for the group. "Brad Owen replied that the public can be critical, but 'Linda has never taken a full salary,' " the ethics board ruling said. The board decided to send the assets to Linda Owen.
However, the actual distribution of assets is on hold, except for some video equipment donated to a school.
The assets issue publicly popped up in 2012 as Owen was running for re-election. The ethics board began its investigation in September 2012. Two months later, Owen defeated Republican Bill Finkbeiner by a 54 percent to 46 percent margin.