Former House candidate Amanda La Bell will not face criminal charges for submitting a false statement to the 2018 Voters Pamphlet last year.

The Oregon Department of Justice had investigated La Bell since last fall over her claim to have graduated from Valdosta State University in Georgia.

Knowingly making a false statement in the Voters’ Pamphlet is a Class C felony.

In an April 9 letter, Senior Assistant Attorney General Amy Seely told Elections Director Stephen Trout that the complaint was being referred back to his office.

“Based on our review, we have concluded there is insufficient evidence of criminal conduct in this particular matter,” Seely wrote.

A copy of the letter was provided Thursday to The Bulletin by Erick Ward, a Bend attorney representing La Bell.

“I cannot explain why it took so long for the DOJ to reach this decision, but I can tell you that they investigated thoroughly and we cooperated every step of the way,” Ward wrote in an email to The Bulletin. “I can also tell you that the allegation has been devastating to Ms. La Bell personally, professionally and financially. We are tremendously happy that she has finally been vindicated.”

Kristina Edmunson, communications director for Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, confirmed the authenticity of the letter, but had no further comment.

Ward also sent The Bulletin a copy of his statement on behalf of La Bell that was sent to the elections division in October 2018. Ward reiterated La Bell’s assertion that the Voters’ Pamphlet error was due to miscommunication with those who prepared her statement for publication. By the time the error was discovered, the deadline to revise the pamphlet had passed, according to La Bell.

La Bell could still face civil action by the secretary of state’s elections division.

“Generally speaking, the courses of action available to the elections division include issuing a proposed penalty notice, issuing a warning letter, or closing a case without further action,” said Deputy Elections Director Michelle Teed. “This is an open investigation at the elections division, and a determination has not been made about the outcome of this case.”

A proposed penalty notice is a civil action that often includes fines.

La Bell is also the subject of complaints to the Oregon Department of Justice regarding alleged mishandling of funds by The Rebecca Foundation, the Bend-based nonprofit diaper bank she founded.

“I have not heard any updates on the Rebecca Foundation allegations but I have every confidence that Ms. La Bell will be vindicated there as well,” Ward wrote in the email.

Edmunson said she did not know the status of what the attorney general’s office late last year called a “review” of the complaints.

La Bell was part of a head-spinning series of events in the 2018 race for House District 54, which includes most of Bend.

After Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, announced he would leave the Legislature and run for governor, Bend City Councilor Nathan Boddie, a Democrat, said he would run for the House seat. Bend restaurateur Cheri Helt, a Bend-La Pine school board member, entered the race as a Republican. Boddie and Helt ran unopposed in each party’s May primary.

Though voters had elected Republicans to the seat in the prior four elections, registered Democrats increasingly outnumbered Republicans in House District 54.

The Democratic Party of Oregon made “flipping” the Bend seat one of its top election priorities. Gov. Kate Brown and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, endorsed Boddie.

But soon after the primary, Boddie was hit with allegations of sexual harassment. Top Democrats withdrew their support, but Boddie refused to step aside and remained the official party nominee on the November ballot

La Bell had registered as a candidate for the small Working Families Party, meaning she would be on the general election ballot. In August, Democrats rallied to her candidacy, seeing a Democratic surrogate who would work with the party in the Legislature. Though they never met her, Brown and Merkley endorsed La Bell.

In mid-September, La Bell’s campaign collapsed. She admitted she had not graduated from Valdosta State University, as stated in the Voters’ Pamphlet. La Bell said inclusion of the erroneous material was caused by the haste of putting her campaign together.

Promote Oregon Leadership PAC, the political arm of the House Republican caucus, filed an official complaint of an election law violation with the secretary of state. Brown, Merkley and other Democrats withdrew their support for La Bell, who soon after suspended her campaign. Like Boddie, she remained on the November ballot.

After a review, the secretary of state said it had forwarded the complaint to the attorney general’s office for possible criminal action.

Soon after, allegations arose that La Bell had mishandled funds given to The Rebecca Fund.

Volunteers for the nonprofit filed complaints with the attorney general. La Bell shuttered the diaper bank soon after.

Helt, the Republican, easily won election to the House seat in November. Buehler won the Republican primary for governor, but lost the general election to Brown.

— Reporter: 541-640-2750, gwarner@bendbulletin.com

23021273