Justin Harper, a staffer for Carl DeMaio's congressional campaign, works the phones in DeMaio's campaign office on May 28, 2014. Harper is on the far left. Less than two months later, Harper says DeMaio sexually harassed him. Credit: Carl DeMaio Facebook Page

edited by Lorie Hearn | inewsource

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Why this matters: Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious matter, one that caused the former mayor of San Diego Bob Filner to resign earlier this year. Now two men who worked for Carl DeMaio’s campaign are claiming the candidate sexually harassed them.


Just days before Tuesday’s election in the tight race for San Diego’s 52nd Congressional District seat, a second former staffer for Republican candidate Carl DeMaio is accusing him of sexual harassment.

Navy veteran Justin Harper, 25, said he began interning with DeMaio’s campaign in February and was hired as a regional political director a month later. His job was to make phone calls and knock on doors to ask voters for their support.

Harper said he quit on July 12, two days after an incident involving DeMaio in a restroom at campaign headquarters.

Harper talked with KPBS a week ago by phone, but he requested that his name not be used in a story about the alleged harassment. KPBS declined to publish or air anonymous allegations.

On Saturday, Harper told KPBS he decided to put his name to the story after getting phone calls on Friday of “encouragement and support from the veterans community in San Diego.” He did not want to say who had called him, and said he did not know who had given his name to the veterans who called.

Harper related the following story to KPBS:

On Thursday, July 10, Harper said, he returned to DeMaio’s Miramar campaign office in the afternoon following a day of walking neighborhoods and knocking on doors for the campaign. He said there had been a news conference at the headquarters, so DeMaio and other staffers were still in the office.

According to a campaign press release, DeMaio had a news conference at noon that day to “blast sweeping Medicare cuts.”

Harper said he went to the restroom and didn’t know anyone was in there.

“I was at the urinal, and (DeMaio) came from the stall that was closest to the urinal and was kind of just standing there hovering,” Harper said. “I turned around and realized that it was Carl. He had his pants up, but his fly was undone, and he had his hand over, not over, grasping his genitals.”

Harper said DeMaio didn’t say anything to him, and he didn’t say anything to DeMaio.

“I just walked out. I didn’t say anything to him, I just left,” Harper said.

When contacted early Sunday by KPBS about the allegations, DeMaio’s campaign spokesman Dave McCulloch responded with a statement:

“Reporters with journalistic integrity have dismissed these false smears because they’ve been peddled by the same people fired from the campaign months ago – and the District Attorney dismissed these false allegations weeks ago. KPBS is reckless in reporting this outrageous lie because our office has not even had a urinal to use – a fact confirmed to KPBS by our landlord.”

JD Bols, the landlord for the office complex where DeMaio headquarters is located, told KPBS on Sunday that there is only one urinal in the second floor men’s room and it has been broken since January and has been covered with plastic wrap. Harper said the urinal was not broken at the time of the incident. A receptionist for Babies First Ultrasound, another business in the office complex, also said the urinal is not currently broken.

Bols has contributed nearly $4,000 to DeMaio’s congressional campaign.

DeMaio has denied sexual harassment allegations made by another former campaign staffer, Todd Bosnich. Bosnich said that DeMaio grabbed his crotch last December and masturbated in front of him on April 30. The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office said it does not have enough evidence to file criminal charges involving those sexual misconduct allegations.

KPBS has communicated with Harper by phone, email and Twitter but has not had a face-to-face meeting with him because he now lives out of state.

Harper said he thought he was the only one with allegations of sexual harassment against DeMaio, but then in mid-October he saw the news reports about Bosnich.

“I honestly thought it happened once to me, and it was a mistake, but since it happened to Todd, I really don’t know who else it happened to,” Harper said.

Since Bosnich’s sexual harassment allegations were first mentioned publicly by a reporter during a DeMaio news conference on Oct. 8, accusations of sexual misconduct, bribery and attempts at a cover-up have dogged DeMaio’s campaign.

The accusations have dominated social media and became national news when CNN aired them, overshadowing the tight race between DeMaio and first-term Democratic Rep. Scott Peters. DeMaio would be the first openly gay Republican to campaign and win a seat in Congress if he beats Peters.

Both candidates are former San Diego city councilmen, and their contest is considered one of the few pure congressional toss-ups. At least $10 million has poured into the race.

Harper’s allegations almost assure that the issue of workplace sexual harassment will remain in the spotlight through Election Day.

Harper told KPBS he didn’t tell anyone right away about what he said had happened in the restroom and has not talked to the police.

About a month ago, he said he told his then-girlfriend, Alison Rentschler, about what he says DeMaio did. She had also worked for the DeMaio campaign but had been fired a few months earlier. Harper said Rentschler told other people, including Bosnich.

Harper’s name has circulated among news outlets ever since Bosnich’s story first aired on CNN on Oct. 10, but he was unwilling to come forward. That’s despite growing pressure from Bosnich over the past few weeks.

On Thursday, Bosnich posted on Twitter that Harper had been “sexually assaulted” by DeMaio. He then forwarded an email chain to several news outlets, including KPBS, that included an email Harper sent on Oct. 11 to the Peters campaign.

“I am a former campaign worker on Carl Demaios [sic] campaign and I wish to talk only to the DCCC or NRCC,” Harper wrote, referring to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee. “Please, I am reaching out because of the incident that happened to me.”

The email chain showed that MaryAnne Pintar, chief of staff for the Peters campaign, forwarded Harper’s email to Bosnich. Pintar told KPBS on Friday that she forwarded the email because she was “concerned about this young man.”

“I thought he needed somebody to talk to,” Pintar said.

She said she had been in contact with Bosnich before forwarding him the email from Harper, but Pintar said she could not specify when because of an ongoing FBI investigation. NBC San Diego reported the FBI is investigating threatening emails sent to Bosnich. An FBI spokesman told KPBS he would not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.

Pintar said she had not been in contact with Harper before the email he sent to the Peters campaign.

Harper said he was “pissed” that Bosnich made his name public before he was ready to come forward on his own. KPBS continued to reach out to Harper after Bosnich released his name, and on Saturday received Harper’s permission to use his name with this story.

Harper said after DeMaio exposed himself to him, he left the campaign office without speaking to anyone and went home to his apartment in Oceanside, which he shared with his girlfriend, Rentschler.

“I shut off for two days,” he said. “I didn’t really do anything for a couple more days. I just stayed in bed.”

Rentschler told KPBS she remembers Harper coming home from work and going straight to bed two days before he quit.

“He didn’t want to hang out, he didn’t want to talk, he wasn’t social,” she said.

After two days, on July 12, Harper sent an email to DeMaio’s campaign manager, Tommy Knepper, telling him he was quitting the campaign to go back to school.

“It has been an amazing experience working on the campaign since starting as an intern in February,” the email read. “However, I need to begin school again in the fall.”

Harper said he didn’t tell Knepper what had happened and sent an email that was positive about his experience on the campaign because he wanted a recommendation letter.

“I would love to continue volunteering and participating in events!” he wrote. “It would be great to continue to help out when I can.”

Harper provided KPBS with Knepper’s response, which was sent the next day, July 13.

“Sorry to lose you, but I understand the need for school,” Knepper wrote. “If you want to keep coming around and/or work part time I would love to have you still.”

On Aug. 8, the campaign forwarded Harper a recommendation letter signed by DeMaio, which Harper provided to KPBS.

“Justin is an absolute pleasure to have around the office,” it read. “I know I speak for my staff when I say that she [sic] will be an asset to any organization.”

Harper said he grew up in San Diego and Redding, and joined the Navy in 2007. He said he left after five years, and used the GI bill to enroll at Palomar College in San Marcos. He said he was still in school while interning for the campaign.

Harper said after he quit the DeMaio campaign, he moved to Ohio to get away from everyone who worked there. He said he is no longer in school and now works selling insurance.

The tight race between DeMaio and Peters has held national attention ever since DeMaio announced his candidacy in May 2013. DeMaio has campaigned on his work on the City Council reforming pensions and on his socially moderate Republican views, both of which attracted Harper to his campaign.

“He seemed not to be a crazy tea partier,” Harper said. “He’s not pro pot, but he has moderate stances toward that, toward abortion, but is still fiscally conservative. Kind of like, to put it simply, a libertarian, which I identified as. He matched, so I thought that was perfect.”

Harper said he now hopes someone with DeMaio’s views is able to get elected but doesn’t think DeMaio should hold political office. He said he’s still affected by what he says DeMaio did to him.

“Carl was a hero of mine. I liked pension reform, I thought he could possibly change the Republican Party, and now I don’t know if it’s just a big political game to him,” Harper said. “I really don’t know what to think except that I had the same thing that (Bosnich) had.”

When KPBS told the Peters campaign on Sunday about Harper’s allegations, spokesman Alex Roth declined to comment.

A 10News/U-T San Diego poll released Sunday shows DeMaio and Peters in a statistical tie — 46 percent for DeMaio, 45 percent for Peters and 11 percent undecided.

Claire Trageser is an investigative reporter at KPBS. To contact her with questions, tips or corrections, email ctrageser@kpbs.org.

7 replies on “Second staffer accuses DeMaio of sexual harrassment”

  1. Hey, a guy with an unzipped fly in a men’s restroom…betcha didn’t see that coming! The lengths to which these Peters cohorts witll go is just amazing…this is smarmy, ugly and stupid on every level…If I didn’t vote I would not vote for the arrogant self-serving aristocrat, Scott Peters. IMHO Lots of this stuff swirling around DeMaio is because he is gay–openly gay. I think the Bosich guy is enjoying his moment in the spotlighted sewer and feeling pretty powerful. There has been what, $5 mil spent on this campaign? Hope he got enough to salve his conscience. No altruism and God and country for the people in this story.

  2. Linda, please be honest. Are you really trying to say that the Democratic party is not accepting of gays? You simply cannot be considered credible after a statement like that. Did you ever think that people might not like Carl DeMaio just because he is Carl Demaio?

  3. Nope. Didn’t say that and don’t put words in my mouth. What I am saying is that however many gays there are in the Democrat party, they would not be averse to using DeMaio’s sexual orientation against him –hanging all the tawdry accusations like Christmas tree ornaments on DeMaio in the hopes that people (straight or not) will be so disgusted they will vote against their pocketbook and for Scott Peters. I think they would say anything it helped them get SP elected, simply because they have no successes to attach to Peters. In other words, plainly, they have no shame. IMHO.

  4. I am going to keep this respectful here and simply politely disagree.
    (1) Claiming the Anti-Gay Card against DeMaio: It might help if you clarify in your text to whom you are referring when you say, “they”. If “they” = gay Democrats, I think your claim that gay Democrats would support using DeMaio’s sexual orientation against him is wrong. If “they” = Democratic Party,I also think such a claim is wrong. I think there are plenty of reasons why people
    are against voting for DeMaio that have nothing to do with his sexual orientation.
    (2) Protecting the Pocketbook: When you talk about people voting
    against their pocketbook if they vote for Peters, are you aware that business groups from the local level (Start-up Circle) to national level (US Chamber of Commerce) have backed Peters over DeMaio?
    (3) “Arrogant Self-Serving Aristocrat”: This is quite the rude
    comment to say about someone that I don’t believe you have ever met. It is a bit surreal to see Republicans suddenly demonizing financial success. Peters has donated significant portions of his salary when he did not have to. By any objective standard, he has been generous with his money. Using your metaphor, I must say this looks a lot like a tawdry accusation/Christmas tree ornament. IMHO.

  5. (1) “they” being Democrat political operatives who would do or say anything to win.
    (2) Start up Circle..? How important are they and what broad appeal/influence would they have save money in a dysfunctional government. What was the rationale for the Chamber to endorse Peters if they did Who else in the local business community wants him back? Roger Hedgecock blistered Peters and Richard Rider did too…these are fiscally conservative people who speak for many voters like me who care less about party and more about results. Scott Peters was one of a handful of people who nearly bankrupted the City as a 2 term councilman and I was appalled that he had the gall to run for the US Congress–and horrified when he won. A do nothing but go with the flow. He is a 98% vote in agreement with the current administration. “O U T, damned Scott,,” to paraphrase.
    (3)Why is it rude/ He is arrogant. I have watched and been in the audience at many City Council meetings…he actually runs a pretty good meeting…but in spite of good manners, he comes across as self-important, entitled and dismissive. And unless you know him pretty well, how would you know whether or not we have met? Donating portions of his salary–well as one of the 5 richest guys in Congress, that doesn’t impress me too much. Besides I think it was Mrs. Peters who donated lots of money, as she is the one who had it. Her wealth, really.
    Oh, one other gaffe that I remember besides the mismanagement of the Pension Fund was his getting busted for being a water hog for his estate, when widows and orphans were being fined for water over use…His was like 21 times more use than anyone else….Now that might be a slight exaggeration, as I haven’t really cared enough about Mr. Peters to follow and retain all of the verified mistakes he’s made. But certainly these are no “ornaments”!

  6. (1) I can agree that there may be a handful of political operatives
    on the left and right who would do almost anything for the win. I cannot support the implication, however, that such a philosophy is purely a Democratic-party phenomena.Overall, I think it unlikely that the majority of Democratics would be OK with bashing Carl for being gay. Can you agree with that?

    (2) Of course Roger Hedgecock is going to be anti-Peters. Like you, I also care less about party and more about results. My point is that there are reasons why local entrepreneurs’ and the world’s largest business group do not support DeMaio. You are asking why, so please see the links below for answers:



    (3) Well, again, I will simply respectively disagree. I consider it rude to call someone an “arrogant self-serving aristocrat” unless you KNOW that to be true. My ability to feel comfortable making such a statement would need to be grounded in more than how he “comes across” as viewed from the City Council audience seats.

    I met with Scott in his office in DC and found him to be straight-forward, professional, and polite.

  7. The accusations made by Bosnich were that DeMaio called him into his office with his pants around his ankles masturbating himself. While the allegations by Harper don’t go into that kind of detail, I think it’s safe to say this wasn’t DeMaio just “zipping-up”.

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