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‘Smells Like Classic Whistleblower Retaliation’: Texas AG Fires Top Aide Who Accused Him of Bribery and Abuse of Office

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) terminated one of the staffers who earlier this month accused him of committing several crimes including bribery and abuse of office, the Texas Tribune reported on Tuesday evening. Lacey Mase, who served as deputy attorney general for administration, was one of seven top aides to Paxton who wrote to the state agency’s director of human resources seeking an investigation into Paxton “in his official capacity as the current Attorney General of Texas.”

“It was not voluntary,” said Mase in a statement to the Tribune, commenting on how her employment had come to an end. Mase did not say anything more. who was hired in 2011.

The Oct. 1 letter said that they had a “good faith belief” that Paxton is “violating federal and/or state law, including prohibitions relating to improper influence, abuse of office, bribery, and other potential criminal offenses.” The employees accused Paxton of improper influence in the case of Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor who donated to Paxton’s 2018 re-election campaign.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, Paul has been under FBI investigation for more than a year; in the months following a series of Aug. 19 federal raids on Paul’s properties in Austin, the investor filed for more than a dozen bankruptcies.

The other signators to the letter were First Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Mateer, Deputy First Assistant Attorney General Ryan Bangert, Deputy Attorney General for Policy & Strategy Initiatives James Brickman, Deputy Attorney General for Civil Litigation Darren McCarty, Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Mark Penley, and Deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel Ryan Vassar.

Mateer resigned on Oct. 2, just hours the before the allegations against Paxton became public. Penley has been placed on investigative leave.

A review of Mase’s personnel file, which was obtained by the Texas Tribune through a public records request, appears to show a rising star who earned several promotions and more than quadrupled her pay since first joining the AG’s office.

“She was promoted as recently as Sept. 1, 2019, earning a nearly 12% pay bump to $205,000 annually,” the report stated. “When Mase was promoted in April 2018, a supervisor wrote that she “consistently exceeded standards” in all her roles at the agency. Her salary has multiplied over the past few years, from $50,000 in 2013 to more than $200,000 most recently.”

Her performance reviews, coupled with the timing of her firing, are likely to give rise to allegations that she was terminated unlawfully.

“This looks and smells like classic whistleblower retaliation,” North Texas employment attorney Jason Smith told the publication, adding that the circumstances were “suspicious.”

“This situation looks like what the Texas Whistleblower Act (TWA) was designed to prevent. And the timing looks bad,” he said. Smith isn’t the only whistleblower advocate to describe the firing as “whistleblower retaliation.”

Per the Texas Attorney General’s office, the TWA “protects public employees who make good faith reports of violations of law by their employer to an appropriate law enforcement authority.” The act also states that “an employer may not suspend or terminate the employment of, or take other adverse personnel action against, a public employee who makes a report under the Act.”

[image via Gabriel Aponte/Getty Images for Concordia Summit]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.