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Originally published November 16, 2011 at 9:02 PM | Page modified November 17, 2011 at 9:03 PM

Reardon used county trips for affair, employee says

A woman who prompted a criminal investigation into Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon's travel spending said she took multiple county-paid trips with the executive where he did little or no official business.

Seattle Times staff reporters

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A woman who prompted a criminal investigation into Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon's travel spending said she took multiple county-paid trips with the executive where he did little or no official business.

The woman — who has known Reardon for 20 years and asked that her name not be used — told The Seattle Times on Wednesday that she took the trips during a longtime affair with Reardon, who is married.

The woman, a county employee, said she took the trips to U.S. cities where Reardon ostensibly was attending conferences. When asked what the two did, she said, "Not much. He wasn't working."

On Wednesday night, Reardon denied any criminal wrongdoing.

The woman, who is not a manager, had no professional reason to take the trips.

She said she went to County Council Chairman Dave Somers last month because she was afraid for her job and her safety. In their on-again, off-again relationship, the executive has threatened to ruin her life, she said.

She said she also was fed up with the waste of county money, especially as Reardon was publicly portraying himself as a careful steward of public dollars.

"I have an issue with public funds being misused," she said in an interview in which she declined to provide detailed accounts of the trips.

The State Patrol is investigating Reardon for alleged official misconduct at the request of Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe, who sought the outside agency to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Roe made the request Oct. 26, days before the Nov. 8 election in which Reardon, a Democrat, was elected to a third term, defeating state Rep. Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens.

The woman said that she never meant to cause any kind of investigation and that it was Somers who passed the information to Roe. She was questioned by the State Patrol shortly before the election, according to a source familiar with the investigation.

Reardon has refused to speak about the matter, saying he will wait until the investigation is completed. He said he has not been contacted by the State Patrol, though investigators have requested records from his office.

"I don't want anything I say to give the appearance that I'm attempting to taint or interfere with any investigation," he said Wednesday.

"I'm innocent of all criminal allegations and am confident that I will be fully exonerated," Reardon said, adding that he has hired Seattle criminal defense attorney John Wolfe. Wolfe confirmed Wednesday night that he and co-counsel Tyson Harper are representing Reardon.

Asked whether he had an affair with the woman, Reardon said he would not comment.

News of the investigation broke five days before the election, although it was described only as an inquiry into the alleged misuse of travel funds.

Reardon blamed the investigation on Hope, who said he had nothing to do with the allegations. Somers said he does not believe the woman was trying to hurt Reardon politically.

During the often-ugly campaign, the woman was the subject of a swirl of anonymous emails, media inquiries and public-records requests. Hope said his campaign did make public-records requests for the woman's emails, and the Washington State Republican Party requested Reardon's travel records.

Somers, who, like Reardon, is a Democrat, said he did not know the woman well but had met her before, and during their talks promised her confidentiality. He won't discuss her allegations in detail, but said that he received "credible information" and that he didn't mean for news of the investigation to leak out before the election.

Somers and Reardon have clashed in the past over county issues.

The county is also protecting the woman as a whistle-blower and has declined to name her, although she says she did not request that status.

In 2004, she and two other female employees sued Snohomish County for sexual harassment. They claimed they were subjected to sexual innuendo and frequent unwelcome touching by supervisors and others at the county's juvenile-detention facility. The suit was settled for about $500,000, which was divided among attorneys and the plaintiffs. Reardon, who does not oversee the juvenile-detention facility, has said he had no role in that settlement.

In the current investigation, the woman said she does not plan any legal action against the county. "I'm not trying to make money from the county," she said.

During mid-October interviews with Somers and the Prosecutor's Office, notes were taken about her allegations, including a subsequent phone conversation. The woman claimed she went last fall with Reardon to Chicago, according to records released under a public-disclosure request.

Reardon did go to Chicago in September 2010 for the Democratic Leadership Council's "government summit," according to county travel records. The Seattle Times requested and obtained travel records for Reardon, but they do not show any level of detail about expenditures.

State Patrol spokesman Robert Calkins declined to discuss the ongoing investigation.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @EmilyHeffter.

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