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Congressman accused of using staff to baby-sit

By Drew Griffin
CNN

Conyers
Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Michigan, is accused of making his congressional staff baby-sit his children.

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Detroit (Michigan)
Michigan
U.S. House of Representatives

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two former staff members of U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Michigan, say the longtime Detroit congressman made them baby-sit his children, run errands and work on political campaigns while they were on his congressional payroll.

Sydney Rooks, whom Conyers hired as a legal adviser in his Detroit office, recalls the lawmaker brought his two young sons into her office several times, saying, "Rooks, they're your responsibility for right now. I'll be back later."

She said later could be a few minutes or an hour. "Later could be frantically calling around trying to find him because it was now 8 or 9 p.m. or later in the evening and not knowing what to do with the children," she said. (Watch ex-staffer say 'watch my child' turned into 6-week stay -- 6:40)

Deanna Maher, who was deputy chief of staff in Conyers' Downriver office, says her baby-sitting duties turned into a stint as a full-time nanny. "He handed me the keys to his car and his house, [said] take care of my child Carl and everything," Maher told CNN from her western Michigan home.

Maher says she moved into Conyers' Detroit home. She took care of his elder son for several weeks, she says, while the congressman was in Washington and his wife attended law classes in Oklahoma.

Maher, Rooks and two other staffers have filed complaints against their former boss with the U.S. House of Representatives' ethics committee. In 2004, one of those complaints initiated an informal investigation, but a senior congressional aide said that the probe was stopped abruptly.

In his 21st term in the House, Conyers is the second most senior member of Congress. He is the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.

CNN made several attempts recently to reach the congressman to answer these former staffers' allegations. Last week, Conyers declined to answer questions about duties assigned to his staff.

"I've been told not to discuss them because we haven't examined them," Conyers said of allegations in a hallway outside a congressional hearing room. "And I have an attorney."

CNN also placed several calls to Conyers' attorney, Stanley Brand, but they were not returned.

Aside from the baby-sitting allegations, one of the most serious complaints includes former staff members' accusations that they were ordered to work on political campaigns. The ex-employees say they used congressional staff time to work on local elections in Michigan, including a campaign for Conyers' wife, Monica, who is the Detroit City Council's president pro tem.

Sam Riddle, a spokesman for Monica Conyers, said the councilwoman "denies that any of the congressman's staff helped with her campaign." Riddle called the former staff members "disgruntled employees who couldn't cut it in the work force." Melanie Sloan, who once worked for the congressman herself, says she is not surprised about the allegations or about the apparent lack of response from the House ethics committee.

Sloan now heads the liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. In the case of ethics, she said neither conservatives nor liberals on Capitol Hill are held accountable.

"That's because there's an ethics truce, " Sloan said. "Both parties will deny this, but there is in fact a truce that's been in existence since 1998. And under the terms of the truce nobody will file a complaint against a member of the other party."

Former Rep. Chris Bell, D-Texas, briefly broke the truce and filed a complaint against Rep. Tom DeLay after suffering an electoral defeat as a result of a redistricting plan engineered by DeLay.

The House ethics committee does have the power to vote for an investigation to be launched against another member of Congress. In the case of Conyers, the committee has not voted to launch an investigation.

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