Corrections official lobbied for husband's nonprofit, documents show
ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - A former Minnesota Department of Corrections official lobbied for her husband’s nonprofit on state time and leaked information about a sexual assault in which a co-worker was the victim, according to investigative documents released by the agency.
Sarah Walker resigned last Friday while under investigation, and at least one Republican lawmaker on Friday accused Walker of breaking the law. A complaint against her said Walker improperly lobbied for the Veterans Defense Project, a group run by her husband, Brock Hunter, which unsuccessfully sought $800,000 from state lawmakers this year.
In text messages mistakenly sent to a fellow Corrections employee on May 17 and May 20 – as Minnesota’s legislative session was ending – Walker said she was “trying to save Brock’s bill,” according to a screenshot of the messages within the investigative documents.
Walker said national Republicans were involved in the lobbying effort. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and a White House representative were calling Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka on behalf of Hunter’s funding request, she said. Walker said she wanted U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer to get involved, too.
“Ugh I can’t believe I have to ask Emmer for a favor,” she texted.
Walker then texted “oops meant for Erickson,” a reference to Sarah Erickson, the Veterans Defense Project’s lobbyist who replaced Walker this year.
Walker said in an email to FOX 9 late Thursday that she was out of state until July 31.
“I am relieved to see the specifics of the complaints against me finally made public,” Walker said in a brief email. “I am out of the state with family, attending my father-in-law’s memorial service, and look forward to responding upon my return home.”
In a previous email interview, she denied lobbying for the Veterans Defense Project since being appointed to the DOC position earlier this year.
Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell filed the complaints against Walker after hearing concerns from Democratic state Rep. John Lesch and others, he said in an interview.
“Getting that type of information, I think there’s a duty to act,” Schnell said.
The state brought in an outside law firm to conduct the Walker investigation, but that work ended abruptly when Walker resigned last week. Minnesota Management and Budget, the state agency that executed the contract, did not immediately provide a copy of it in response to a FOX 9 request.
Computer forensics recovered from Walker’s state computer indicate that she at least twice edited documents containing testimony on behalf of the Veterans Defense Project legislation. Hunter and Erickson, the VDP’s new lobbyist, are listed as the authors of the documents.
The $800,000 funding request ultimately failed. Some lawmakers, including Lesch and state Rep. Marion O’Neill, have raised concerns about a lack of transparency over how the group spent a previous $500,000 state grant.
Before taking the Corrections job, Walker was a lobbyist for several organizations, including the Veterans Defense Project, and a well-known activist for changes to the state’s criminal justice policy.
O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, said Gov. Tim Walz should allow a further investigation to find out if Walker broke any laws. O’Neill was among those who filed data requests last week, seeking the release of the investigative documents.
“I would call upon the Walz administration to launch a full investigation – whether or not she’s resigned –because I think there’s criminal behavior here that could be actionable,” O’Neill said in an interview.
Teddy Tschann, Walz’s spokesman, said Friday evening that the governor’s office would “have more to say about this on Monday.”
Any further investigation would be up to law enforcement or the state Office of the Legislative Auditor, Schnell said.
“That really is a decision beyond the department or, really, the executive branch of government,” he said.
He said the issues were isolated to Walker.
“I want to be crystal clear. This is a single person,” Schnell said. “If there is any concern anywhere else, I want (people) to know that we’ll look into it. No one and nothing is off limits.”