An Idaho lawmaker who police say is under criminal investigation into allegations he raped a 19-year-old legislative intern, resigned last month – the same day as a committee of ethics recommended its suspension.
In a unanimous vote by the House Politics and Ethics Committee, lawmaker, State Representative Aaron von Ehlinger, a Republican from Lewiston, Idaho, was convicted of “improper conduct” a representative.
The committee said as part of a censure recommendation to the plenary chamber that Mr von Ehlinger, who has not been charged with a felony, should be removed from office without pay for the remainder of the legislative session . The panel also said it would support a motion to expel him from the Legislative Assembly, where he had served for less than a year.
The disciplinary action came a day after Mr von Ehlinger refused to answer committee questions about the allegations during a lengthy public hearing in which he invoked Fifth Amendment law against self-incrimination .
Mr von Ehlinger, 38, denied the allegations in a resignation letter he sent to the Idaho Speaker on Thursday, but said he would not be able to continue to effectively represent his voters.
“I maintain my innocence of any wrongdoing I have been accused of in this matter, let alone any violation of any law, rule or policy of the state of Idaho or of this body,” he said. written. He also said it would be difficult for him to do his job in the face of a potential eviction.
“I hope this action will save my good colleagues from further difficulties in this matter,” the letter said.
The intern student, who testified before the committee on Wednesday, told the House Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms on March 11 that Mr. von Ehlinger sexually assaulted her after dining at a restaurant in Boise, Idaho on the 9th. March, according to one of his lawyers. Instead of taking her back to her car, the lawyer said, Mr von Ehlinger drove her back to his apartment and raped her.
Mr von Ehlinger previously told lawmakers in a private interview that his sexual contact with the intern was consensual, according to the committee, whose members repeatedly berated him on Thursday.
“His behavior has poisoned the reputation of all of us and tarnished and discredited the other elected officials who serve,” Rep. Wendy Horman, a Republican from Idaho Falls, said at the committee meeting.
Committee members said Mr von Ehlinger, who is single, engaged in inappropriate behavior in the workplace, having relationships with several female House staff, some of whom were subordinates.
“The representative’s aggressive tactics towards women are troubling,” Representative John McCrostie, a Democrat from Garden City, said at the meeting.
A spokeswoman for the Boise Police Department said in an email Thursday that an investigation is underway into the allegations against Mr von Ehlinger.
Erika Birch, an attorney for the intern identified in a complaint as Jane Doe, said in an email Thursday that Mr von Ehlinger had not accepted responsibility for his actions.
“It is inexcusable that he waited until his fate was unavoidable before resigning,” Ms. Birch said. “While we are happy that he is out of the Legislature and unable to prey on other young women in our Statehouse, his actions are simply unforgivable.”
Ms Birch said the intern, a high school student who graduated last year and worked for another House Republican, was raped again when a letter identifying her was released as part of Ms. von Ehlinger. Local media reported that a former lawyer for Mr von Ehlinger had sent the letter.
“Von Ehlinger could and should have taken responsibility for his actions from the start,” Ms. Birch said. “Instead, he forced our teenage client to suffer through weeks of ethics committee investigation and ultimately have to testify in a public hearing. Worse yet, he published his written defense without redacting his identity, which led to a campaign of harassment and intimidation against him.
Mr von Ehlinger and his current lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for further comment on Thursday.
Appointed last June by Governor Brad Little, a Republican, to fill a vacancy caused by the death of a lawmaker, Mr von Ehlinger ran unopposed in the November election. In a profile last spring, The Lewiston Tribune reported that Mr von Ehlinger had worked as a substitute teacher after a military career, in addition to working in private security and real estate.
In a statement released Thursday before Mr von Ehlinger’s resignation, Mr Little said elected officials must be held to a higher standard.
“I applaud Jane Doe and the other brave women for their courage in telling their stories and being part of this process to hold Representative Aaron von Ehlinger accountable for his deeply damaging and shameful actions,” Mr. Little said. “The inappropriate and alarming actions of Representative von Ehlinger run counter to the values and behavior that elected officials of the state must uphold.”