According to documents newly obtained by Roll Call, the Treasury Department paid out $220,000 in taxpayer funds to settle a sexual harassment claim made against Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings.
The payout, which did not appear on a list of settlements published earlier in the week, was made to Winsome Packer, "a former staff member of a congressional commission that promotes international human rights," who claimed Hastings recruited her for the commission job, then used it to sexually harass and intimidate her.
Hastings calls the claims "ludicrous," and told Roll Call that he had no idea a settlement had been reached and that Packer had been paid. "This matter was handled solely by the Senate Chief Counsel for Employment. At no time was I consulted, nor did I know until after the fact that such a settlement was made," Hastings said in a statement.
“I am outraged that any taxpayer dollars were needlessly paid to Ms. Packer,” he continued.
According to the documents, and in an interview with Roll Call, Packer claims that after she lost her job as an aide to the Republican majority in 2006, Hastings recruited Packer, an immigrant herself, to join the Helsinki Commission, a team of aides that assists Members of Congress on certain international issues.
She was stationed in Vienna and was required to travel with Hastings to other foreign countries. She said in her lawsuit that Hastings repeatedly asked to stay at her apartment or to visit her hotel room. Packer also said he frequently hugged her, and once asked her what kind of underwear she was wearing.
She filed a complaint with a Congressional board in 2010, and then sued Hastings for sexual harassment in 2011. She claims that, since receiving her settlement, she's been blackballed from most employment, and has had to work odd jobs to make ends meet — a claim echoed by other Congressional settlement recipients, including by a woman who accused Rep. Blake Farenthold of inappropriate behavior and received an $84,000 payout.
This is the latest in a string of accusations against members of Congress. Both Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) announced last week that they would resign as a result of such allegations. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) announced Friday that he would step aside because of a similar accusation of impropriety.