Update Nov. 20:
Hear Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler discuss the Fellows' claims with CapRadio's Randol White:
A California Senate staffer told an associate last year that the director of the Senate Fellows Program knew about state Sen. Tony Mendoza’s reputation for inappropriate behavior with women, yet still placed a female student Fellow in his Capitol office.
And another former fellow, Bernice Jimenez Creager, says the director, David Pacheco, discriminated against her because she was a Latina Republican. Once, as fellows role-played a mock committee hearing, Creager says Pacheco “just started chewing [her] out.”
“I broke down in tears,” she said.
The staffer’s associate says that in the fall of 2016, as Pacheco prepared to place that year’s class of Senate Fellows at the Capitol, he phoned the staffer in Mendoza’s office who would be supervising the Senate Fellow. The supervisor recounted this conversation at the time to the associate, who this week described it to Capital Public Radio.
During this phone conversation, the source says Pacheco told the supervisor that he knew of problems in Mendoza’s office. Specifically, he was aware of the senator’s reputation for improper conduct with women.
According to the source, Pacheco said he was only placing the female Fellow in Mendoza’s office because the supervisor, who had recently joined the staff, worked there.
This new revelation comes on the heels of reports last week that Mendoza repeatedly invited the Fellow to visit him at home — and, on one occasion, to stay with him at a hotel.
Sacramento State, which operates the Fellows program, placed Pacheco on “indefinite leave” this week amid accusations he failed to report Mendoza’s alleged improper conduct with the student Fellow.
The university declined to discuss these latest accusations against Pacheco. Earlier this week, when it placed Pacheco on leave, it stated that it would not discuss the allegations, citing personnel privacy reasons.
In an email, Pacheco wrote that allegations he failed to report Mendoza’s alleged misconduct when recently approached are “simply not true.” He says he reported all complaints to the Senate Deputy Secretary for Human Resources.
“I acted quickly and appropriately and look forward to being exonerated,” Pacheco wrote. He did not respond to claims that he knew of Mendoza’s reputation when he placed the Senate Fellow in that office.
A former Capitol Fellow, who circulated a letter this week calling on Sacramento State to investigate Pacheco, said it was “irresponsible” to assign a student Fellow to an office if there might be problems.
“It’s a privilege for a legislator to get a Fellow. There are 39 other offices and over a dozen committees where the fellow could have been placed,” said Tam Ma, a 2002-03 Senate fellow who now works for a health care advocacy group. “We need to change the culture of the Capitol so putting up with sexual harassment isn’t part of the unspoken job description.”
Two additional women who previously worked for Mendoza have since disclosed instances of inappropriate behavior to The Sacramento Bee.
Mendoza issued a statement that references the broader allegations against him rather than the claims in this story, criticizing recent “innuendo, smears and the settling of political scores in the media.” He added that he cannot respond to these stories because of direction from the Senate Rules Committee.
Meanwhile, as Sacramento State investigates how Pacheco handled the situation involving the Mendoza Fellow, Jimenez Creager’s story raises additional questions about how Pacheco ran the program.
“As a Latina Republican, it was made very clear that I did not really fit the mold,” said Jimenez Creager, who served in then-state Sen. Jeff Denham’s office in 2008-09.
She described her relationship with Pacheco as “constant head-butting,” adding that he treated Democrats favorably while discriminating against and berating her.
She described one incident, during a mock committee hearing where Fellows role-played legislators, in which she received a card instructing her to act belligerently. She played the role, and then says that Pacheco pulled her outside and berated her until she cried.
Later, she showed Pacheco the card describing her role. She says he read it, then replied, “Oh.”
“He never apologized to me. And it was from that moment that I felt that he just wasn’t a person that had my best interest in mind,” Jimenez Creager said.
She said the support she got from Denham’s office helped make her fellowship worthwhile. (Denham, a Central Valley Republican, now serves in Congress.)
Pacheco did not respond to texts or phone calls asking to discuss Jimenez Creager’s accusations.
The former Fellow also claims that Pacheco tried to block her from getting placed in Denham’s office, and from time-to-time would threaten to kick her out of the program.
One of the Denham staffers, who worked in the office at the same time as Jimenez Creager, backed up her story.
“She felt humiliated. She felt belittled. She felt prejudiced against, both from her gender to her ethnicity,” said the staffer, who asked that her name be withheld to avoid repercussions at the Capitol. “It took away from her experience in this prestigious program.”
Jimenez Creager said Pacheco was “extremely friendly” with other Fellows. “I mean, going out, drinking, doing shots even — and kind of being more of a father figure for them,” she said.
“I don’t think I’m the only one that had a bad experience,” she added. “And I also know that there are a lot of other people that perhaps had the opposite of it — had an amazing experience.”
Jimenez Creager said she’s spoken with other former Fellows after the recent allegations. They also raised concerns about how Pacheco ran the Fellows program, but they aren’t willing to speak publicly.
Today, Jimenez Creager works at a public affairs firm near the Capitol. She was reluctant to speak out and says she bears Pacheco no personal ill will.
Instead, she hopes this will spur Sacramento State to take a new look at the four Fellows programs — Senate, Assembly, Executive and Judicial — which she believes provide a “meaningful learning experience” in California government but need a culture change.
Editor’s Note: The Capital Fellows Program is run by Sacramento State, which holds the license to Capital Public Radio.