House ethics panel seeks censure of Missouri Democrat accused of having sex with intern

Bipartisan committee says Rep. Wiley Price threatened staff in retaliation for reporting allegations

By: - December 16, 2020 3:54 pm

State Rep. Wiley Price, D-St. Louis (photo by Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications).

A St. Louis lawmaker should be censured, stripped of his committee assignments and pay the costs of an investigation that concluded he had sex with an intern and retaliated against an employee who reported it, the Missouri House Ethics stated in a report issued Wednesday.

The report — which was unanimously approved by the bipartisan 10-member committee — said state Rep. Wiley Price IV, D-St. Louis, committed perjury in his testimony, obstructed the investigation and “compromised the ability of the House to provide a respectful, professional work environment.”

House policies go further than banning sexual harassment. Consent to a relationship is immaterial under House policies, which state that “no state representative or House Officer may engage in any amorous or romantic relationship” with employees or interns.

The committee is recommending censure by the full House and payment of $22,492 to the House for the costs. No censure action is possible until lawmakers convene their next regular session on Jan. 6 after the House on Wednesday finally adjourned a special session that began Nov. 5.

Price could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon. He was unopposed for a second term this year to represent the 28th House District, which includes the area around Forest Park in St. Louis. He won a primary in 2018 and an unopposed election in the fall to win his first term. 

The current and incoming House Republican leadership issued a joint statement Wednesday afternoon stating that the recommendations of the committee will receive a vote. 

“The committee worked diligently using the process put in place under House Speaker Todd Richardson that was designed to prevent and resolve inappropriate behavior and improve the culture in the Capitol,” said House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, House Majority Floor Leader and Speaker Designee Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, House Speaker Pro Tem John Wiemann, R-St. Charles, and incoming House Majority Floor Leader Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis.

“We will pursue the recommendation for censure that was unanimously approved by the five Republicans and five Democrats who make up the committee.”

House Democratic Leader Crystal Quade of Springfield issued a statement shortly after 4 p.m. It gave no direct support for any specific action to reprimand Price.

“Now that the House Ethics Committee investigation is complete, the next step will be for the full House to evaluate the evidence and determine the appropriate action,” Quade said. “We expect that process to be conducted in a swift and fair manner when the legislature reconvenes in January.”

The committee report details the events that led to the investigation and Price’s attempts to cover-up his relationship with the intern. Only Price, also called the respondent in the report, is named.

It began when Price told his legislative assistant, listed as Witness 1 in the report, that he had sexual relations with the intern after he, the legislative assistant and the intern attended a party on Jan. 22. The assistant told Price that it violated House rules and would be reported.

The initial report “also alleged that upon learning that he would be subject to an ethics investigation in this matter, respondent attempted to coerce Witness 1 into being untruthful with the investigator and the committee in order to cover up the offense.”

In testimony before the committee, the legislative assistant said Price made several threats.

‘If I didn’t back his play or back his idea that I was going to lose my job,” was one. 

Price also said that “where I come from, people die for s*** like this,” the assistant told the committee.

Under questioning from the investigator, the intern denied a sexual relationship, denied speaking on the phone with or texting Price and denied having his cell number. The intern declined to give testimony to the Ethics Committee.

Price made the same denials, and repeated them again four times during committee testimony before he was shown the phone records obtained via subpoena. Those records showed seven phone calls and 26 text messages over a four-day period in late January, including one phone call that lasted 42 minutes.

In his testimony about threats to fire the legislative assistant, Price said he gave notice to her a week before she made the report that she would be out of a job in 30 days. Price “claimed Witness 1 fabricated the story of Respondent and the intern as retaliation,” the report states.

He told the committee he intended to hire a friend from his district, but did not tell the other representative who shared the assistant’s services or inform the House administration.

Price could not recall the name of the person he intended to hire during his testimony.

The process used for the investigation was adopted by the House in the fall of 2015 in response to the scandal that forced House Speaker John Diehl to resign two days before the end of the 2015 legislative session. Diehl was found to have sent sexually-suggestive texts to an intern, including messages sent while he was overseas representing the state on a trade mission.

Under House rules, complaints are confidential but must be referred to the Ethics Committee within 14 days of receipt. The House policy manual makes investigations of complaints mandatory when the administration learn of an inappropriate relationship and investigations are confidential until complete and allegations are found to be credible.

The report alleges Price and his attorney sought to breach the confidence of the hearing held Sept. 15 by leaving a cell phone, with the recording application in use, in the committee room after Price’s testimony.

“The phone had been recording Respondent’s testimony and would have continued recording the committee’s private deliberations,” the report states.

No permission had been granted to make the recording and it violated the confidentiality rules, the report states.

Other lawmakers began to issue statements about the case after the Ethics Committee report was made public Wednesday. State Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Republic, said Quade should take steps to prevent a repeat episode.

“The disgusting behavior of Rep. Price that was uncovered by our bipartisan House Ethics Committee cannot be tolerated,” Taylor said in the prepared statement. “House Minority Leader Crystal Quade must immediately denounce the behavior of Rep. Price and investigate whether any other members of her caucus had knowledge of the affair or cover-up. She should not allow Rep. Price to continue to caucus with the Democrats in the Missouri House.”

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget and the legislature. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he spent 22 of his 32 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics for the Columbia Daily Tribune, where he won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.