- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa ethics regulator said Friday she’s not planning to take action against a state employee who tipped off Smith & Wesson about a bidding opportunity and went to work for the gun company months later.

Megan Tooker, executive director of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, said she doesn’t believe former Iowa Department of Public Safety supply employee Ken Paradise technically violated Iowa conflict of interest laws. She said she decided it’s unnecessary to bring the matter to the board’s attention, in part because of actions the public safety department took after learning about his potential conflict.

The Associated Press reported July 31 that Paradise told a Smith & Wesson salesman in a July 2013 email that the department was planning to solicit proposals from vendors to buy hundreds of new handguns for state law enforcement officers. Paradise had helped draft the specifications of the plan, potentially worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to vendors.

The department pulled the purchasing proposal within 24 hours after learning that Paradise had a pending job application in with Smith & Wesson. The plan was rewritten without Paradise, and reposted months later.

By then, Paradise had left the department and taken a job as a regional salesman for Smith & Wesson, which soon won two major Iowa contracts. In March 2014, Smith & Wesson and two other vendors won the bidding process that had been delayed and rewritten. Then months later, the department sought additional bids after deciding it wanted an additional safety feature on its handguns. Smith & Wesson won that contract after its only competitor was disqualified during testing.

Paradise worked directly on those contracts, becoming his former colleagues’ contact person for handguns and parts, training and repairs. When department testing revealed potential defects and safety concerns with the guns in 2014, Paradise promised the company would “do everything to make it right.”

The department earlier this year returned 797 guns that it had bought, citing safety concerns, and placed three high-ranking Iowa State Patrol officials on leave amid unspecified allegations of wrongdoing in how the guns were purchased. The department has since brought those officials back to work, saying further investigation showed they did nothing wrong.

After the AP’s story on Paradise was published, Tooker looked into whether his actions violated any laws meant to discourage the use of state positions to benefit personal interests.

Iowa law prohibits departing state employees from getting paid for two years to work for companies “in relation to any case, proceeding, or application with respect to which the person was directly concerned and personally participated.” The law, which can lead to a misdemeanor offense against violators, doesn’t apply to Paradise because the department pulled the proposal that he helped draft and rewrote it, Tooker said. Therefore, he hadn’t “personally participated” in any matters that could have benefited Smith & Wesson, she said.

“The fact that he goes and works for a contractor that bids on something he had nothing to do with doesn’t violate” the statute, she said.

Paradise didn’t immediately return a phone message seeking comment Friday.

Another law requires employees to disclose any conflict related to “outside employment or activity” and avoid taking any official actions that would further those interests. Tooker said the law isn’t clear on whether inquiring about employment with a vendor by itself would violate the law, and Paradise’s precise discussions with Smith & Wesson aren’t known.

The department declined to interview Paradise since he is no longer one of its employees and it is worried about the possibility of litigation with Smith & Wesson over the abandoned gun contract, Tooker said.

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