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Breidenthal cleared by DOJ in campaign case

Former Jackson County Commissioner Doug Breidenthal has been cleared of criminal wrongdoing by the Oregon Department of Justice after a yearlong investigation into allegations of theft, official misconduct and election-law violations regarding his campaign for an office with a little-known advocacy group. 

The allegations were related to a special account set up under the Association of Oregon Counties for Breidenthal's 2014 campaign for second vice president with the Western Interstate Region, an AOC-related advocacy group for public policy issues in the West. 

"To conclude, we have determined that there is insufficient evidence to support any criminal charges against Mr. Breidenthal regarding the allegations raised by (former) Sheriff (Corey) Falls and Auditor (Eric) Spivak," according to a March 14 letter to Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert from Michael Slauson, chief counsel for the Department of Justice.

Falls asked the DOJ to investigate allegations that Breidenthal misused funds from the AOC account. Spivak filed an ethics complaint with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission in October 2015 but didn't ask for a criminal investigation.

"I filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission regarding state ethics laws," Spivak wrote in an email response. "I never made allegations regarding any criminal activity, as indicated by the DOJ letter."

The Ethics Commission probe was put on hold until after the DOJ concluded its investigation.

Slauson said the DOJ investigated only whether crimes were committed and did not look into civil or administrative complaints against Breidenthal.

Spivak said the DOJ supported his concern that Breidenthal retained ownership of the funds in the AOC account that could be used at his discretion. As a result, Spivak said Breidenthal's receipt of the money may have violated ethics law.

"I consider the DOJ's finding to be validation that my concern was warranted," Spivak said in his email.

The DOJ finding contradicts a letter dated Nov. 10, 2015, from Breidenthal's Portland attorney David Griggs asserting that the Friends of Doug Breidenthal account was set up by the AOC and belongs to the AOC, not Breidenthal.

On Wednesday, Breidenthal, Griggs and Breidenthal's Medford lawyer John Howry could not be reached for comment.

Slauson wrote that AOC Executive Director Mike McArthur told investigators that funds in an account established by the AOC were not owned by the AOC.

"Moreover, AOC did not exercise meaningful control over Mr. Breidenthal's use of funds in the account," Slauson wrote.

Slauson said the investigation found that some of the payments made by Breidenthal out of the account appeared unrelated to the WIR campaign, such as paying dues to the local Rotary Club and a campaign contribution to a local commissioner.

"We considered whether the use of the funds for purposes other than the WIR campaign constituted theft or other related charges," Slauson wrote.

However, because Breidenthal owned the funds in the account, Slauson stated there is insufficient evidence to file criminal charges.

"The OGEC has opened a case based on the auditor's allegations but has stayed its investigation pending the outcome of the criminal review," Slauson wrote.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Department of Justice letter exonerating Breidenthal by Mail Tribune on Scribd

Former Jackson County Commissioner Doug Breidenthal has been cleared of criminal wrongdoing by the Oregon Department of Justice in a case related to his campaign activities for an office with the Western Interstate Region, an advocacy group for public policy issues in the West. [Mail Tribune / file photo]