Ethics Panel To Eye Rape Complaint Against Idaho Lawmaker

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A legislative ethics committee is investigating a rape complaint against an Idaho state lawmaker.

Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, a freshman Republican from Lewiston, denied the allegation. His attorney has called for the ethics investigation to be dismissed, saying the encounter was consensual.

In the complaint filed by House Republican leaders on March 17 and released Friday, the accuser told Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms Kim Blackburn that she was assaulted after von Ehlinger took her out to dinner and then back to his apartment on the pretext that he'd forgotten something. She said it happened despite the fact that she said “no” and froze.

A letter from von Ehlinger’s former attorney Scott McKay to the ethics committee chairman included the woman’s name and said she was a legislative staffer. The letter was publicly released Friday by attorney David Leroy.

The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted.

In the complaint, Blackburn said the accuser was visibly upset when she came to her and asked to speak in private. Blackburn said the woman told her that von Ehlinger had been nice to her at work, sometimes bringing her lunch and paying to fill up her car with gas.

The woman said in the complaint that von Ehlinger initiated sexual contact and forced her to perform oral sex. She said she was frightened because she knew he had a gun.

“She told me that she was afraid to be around him,” Blackburn wrote in a statement to the Boise Police Department after the woman agreed to have Blackburn report the accusations.

Blackburn told Speaker of the House Scott Bedke and the Idaho attorney ggneral's office about the allegations, and the complaint was referred to the Boise Police Department for a criminal investigation.

The police began investigating, according to the complaint, but five days later stopped apparently at the accuser's request.

“Now that it appears that we will no longer be interfering with an ongoing investigation, we feel compelled to bring this complaint before the Ethics and House Policy Committee,” House leadership wrote in the complaint.

David Leroy, von Ehlinger’s new attorney, released the seven-page letter on Friday calling for the ethics investigation to be dismissed.

In the letter, von Ehlinger’s previous attorney Scott McKay claimed von Ehlinger had passed a polygraph test and that he has a restaurant receipt showing the accuser was wrong about the day they had dinner. Polygraph tests — sometimes called lie detectors — purport to detect deception by measuring blood pressure, sweating and breathing rates. They're generally not admissible in court.

In the letter, McKay said the accuser was lying and that she had pursued von Ehlinger in hopes of building a relationship. He also claimed that she used drugs, and that another lawmaker was the person who had paid to fill up the woman's car with gas and bought her lunch.

The accuser “was a willing participant in all of the sexual contact that occurred, and at no point did (the accuser) express otherwise by her words or actions,” McKay wrote.

In a statement to The Lewiston Tribune, von Ehlinger said the accusations were false.

“This episode is an embarrassment to me, but I assure my constituents in Nez Perce and Lewis counties that I have not broken any laws or legislative rules, nor have I violated the concepts of appropriate social conduct,” von Ehlinger told the newspaper.

The House Ethics committee is expected to hold a public hearing where evidence and testimony can be presented and von Ehlinger could present a defense. Then the committee, made up of three Republicans and two Democrats, will make a recommendation to the entire House on whether the allegations should be dismissed or if action should be taken. Penalties can include a formal reprimand, censure or expulsion.

Von Ehlinger was appointed to his post last summer after his predecessor, Rep. Thyra Stevenson, died. In November he was elected to a two-year term.

In January, he was granted a full pardon for several misdemeanor offenses he committed between 1996 and 2013. The charges ranged from driving an unregistered motorcycle to possessing drug paraphernalia and reckless driving.

He later said most of the misdemeanors stemmed from “issues I needed to work out” after he returned from serving three years in the U.S. Army, including a tour in Afghanistan.