A series of sexual harassment complaints and a campaign donation have added another twist to the Georgia Republican gubernatorial runoff.
Complaints of harassment by Massage Envy staff in Atlanta have gone unheeded by the Georgia Board of Massage Therapy, according to reports by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the board’s inaction is coming back to haunt the gubernatorial campaign of Secretary of State Brian Kemp.
Kemp and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle are locked in the final weeks of a runoff for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. The winner will go on to face Democrat Stacey Abrams in the fall.
The massage board licenses and regulates massage therapists in Georgia. It exists within the secretary of state’s office, and the inaction of the board was revealed by the AJC in May.
Now, Kemp’s critics are calling for a criminal investigation after it was revealed the owner of the Massage Envy clinics at the center of the sexual harassment complaint, Patrick Greco, is also a donor to Kemp’s campaign.
Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, has written to BJay Pak, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia in Atlanta, to request a criminal investigation into the donation and the massage board’s lack of action on the sexual harassment complaints.
Unterman, who is a supporter of Cagle’s bid for governor, alleges there appears to be a “quid pro quo scheme” between the Kemp campaign and Greco.
Kemp campaign spokesman Ryan Mahoney dismissed the allegations on Wednesday, July 11, saying in a statement that it’s not in fact the secretary of state who is responsible for policing the boards.
“The Attorney General’s office and board members appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal are charged with holding licensees accountable — not Brian Kemp,” Mahoney said, adding that the attacks were a “botched political stunt” intended to distract from the leaked, secretly recorded conversation between Cagle and Clay Tippins.
But the initial charge from Unterman led to a deep dive into the political mud this week. Mahoney issued a scathing response to Unterman’s charge, going so far as to question her sanity.
“It is our hope that, for her own sake, she will retract these baseless, politically motivated statements before facing serious legal action,” Mahoney said this week. “We also hope that Sen. Unterman will seek immediate medical attention before she hurts herself or someone else.”
The state senator from Buford responded to the personal attack in a lengthy Facebook post on Tuesday.
“Yes, I suffered from depression during my divorce and sought treatment. Who doesn’t when you have such a major life transition like a divorce, especially when kids are involved? The circumstances of my divorce were tragic just as many people can relate to,” Unterman wrote. “Ironically my son Zak would be celebrating his 35th birthday today, July 10, 2018, had he not chosen to commit suicide due to mental illness.
“He was a vibrant, witty beautiful boy who cared for others all the time, so much so, that he didn’t express his own inner demons of depression.”
Mahoney didn’t address Unterman’s comments in her Facebook post in a response to The Times, instead saying that Cagle’s campaign has “accused Brian Kemp and his supporters of collusion, being crazy, and saying sexist things. Sounds like the 2016 presidential election all over again and we all know how that turned out.”
Unterman has launched her own personal attacks on Kemp supporters in the past.
In early June, she took to Twitter to criticize fellow Buford Republican Rep. David Clark, who has supported Kemp’s bid for governor — and before Kemp, Clark supported Clay Tippins in the primary.
She referenced two measures she pushed in 2015, Senate Bill 8 and Senate Resolution 7, which would have created a fund for sex trafficking and sex crime victims by levying fines on convicted traffickers and creating a $5,000 fee for adult entertainment businesses in Georgia.
Clark voted against the efforts in the House.
Unterman sarcastically said it was “great to have” Clark leading the Kemp campaign’s veteran outreach, adding that he was the “same guy who votes for sexual predators preying on young children being bought and sold for sex.”
She included the hashtag “#makesyouwonder,” in the tweet, leading to a wave of criticism from Georgia politicians calling the tweet out of line.