- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee campaign finance officials have imposed a nearly $465,000 fine on a former lawmaker who was expelled from the General Assembly last year amid a series of sexual harassment allegations.

The Tennessean reports (http://tnne.ws/2sEsral ) it’s the largest fine ever imposed by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.

Jeremy Durham was a vocal young conservative and a rising legislative star until his increasingly erratic behavior and mounting sexual harassment allegations caught up with him. Many women told investigators that Durham constantly pursued them for drinks, tried to get them to meet him alone, and sometimes grabbed, hugged and kissed them. A female lobbyist nicknamed him “Pants Candy” after Durham rummaged in his pocket and suggestively offered her a dirty, unwrapped mint, she said.

The Republican from the Nashville suburb of Franklin became the first sitting member expelled from the state House in 36 years.

A state audit alleged hundreds of campaign finance violations that included money from his re-election account being used for personal expenses such as clothing and landscaping at his house, and using campaign funds to loan money to a GOP ally, a professional gambler and his wife.

Durham did not attend Wednesday’s meeting. His attorney, Peter Strianse, had urged the panel to not to assess any penalties.

“It was clearly excessive,” he said after the hearing. “We are obviously going to appeal this decision.”

Durham had filed a 235-page response to the audit, arguing that many of the expenses in question were legitimate. But the panel voted not to include Durham’s filing in the official record because it was not signed, sworn testimony.

Strianse objected to the exclusion of the response, arguing that his client faces difficult times amid both state and federal investigation.

The largest previous penalty was a $120,000 fine issued against former Democratic state Sen. Jerry Cooper after investigators in 2007 found he had used $95,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses.

Durham has said he’s a victim of a Republican establishment vendetta and that he was ousted from the Legislature based on unproven anonymous allegations. Durham had already lost the Republican primary by the time he was drummed out of the House, but the move prevented him from qualifying for state pension benefits upon reaching retirement age.

The Tennessean reported in December that federal prosecutors had subpoenaed witnesses to testify before a grand jury looking into possible charges against Durham.

The subpoenas indicated that the jurors were investigating “possible violations of federal criminal laws involving, but not necessarily limited to, bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud.” No indictment has been filed to date.

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Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com

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