A top Minnesota Corrections official who quit her post last week said Monday that she has been accused of lobbying on state time for a veterans’ nonprofit organization run by her husband — an allegation she denied.
Sarah Walker, who left her job as a deputy commissioner on Friday, indicated that she is being unfairly investigated in connection with her ties to the Veterans Defense Project, a Minneapolis nonprofit that does legal work for military veterans. In a statement Monday, Walker identified Rep. John Lesch, D-St. Paul, as a complainant, but said the complaint played no role in her decision to leave.
“I did not meet with any legislators or have any communication with legislators regarding the VDP,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Star Tribune on Monday. “All of my lobbying responsibilities for the VDP were transferred to another lobbyist prior to my start date at the DOC.”
Her husband, attorney Brockton Hunter, is listed as president of the group.
A Department of Corrections spokeswoman said Friday that the department has received complaints about Walker, but “the investigation has not been completed.” She declined to discuss the nature of those complaints.
Walker’s resignation comes roughly six months after Commissioner Paul Schnell tapped her to lead the agency’s community services division.
Her exit prompted state Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, to file a formal request last week for information regarding Walker’s timecards, calendar entries and electronic correspondence since her appointment in January.
O’Neill said last week that she pursued payroll data following concerns about Walker’s job performance.
“How much was she actually doing DOC work for the past few weeks while she was still being paid?” said O’Neill, the minority lead on the House corrections subcommittee. “We’re just doing our due diligence to get to the bottom of it.”
Although DOC officials have said little about the investigation, Walker acknowledged in an e-mail exchange Monday that officials had received a complaint alleging that she conducted lobbying activities on state time.
She denied that she had met with lawmakers or with officials in the administration of Gov. Tim Walz on behalf of her husband’s group.
“I never spoke with the administration about the VDP after I learned of my appointment,” she said. “All communication about the VDP happened between the administration and the VDP and their lobbyist. I believe I was once asked about the fiscal note related to prison bed reductions associated with [a] bill. That information was public and did not involve any effort to influence legislation.”
In Walker’s resignation letter, the former lobbyist on criminal justice issues indicated a desire to return to her advocacy work. She said she left of her own volition.
Walker said in a statement Monday that “Rep. Lesch’s complaint appears to be part of a pattern of behavior in which he launches underhanded attacks on his perceived foes, particularly when they are women.”
In a statement Monday, Lesch denied making a complaint, calling her narrative false.