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Steinburg fires aide after incriminating tape surfaces

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State Rep. Bob Steinburg

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By Jon Hawley
The Daily Advance

Thursday, December 13, 2018

ELIZABETH CITY — After first saying he was standing by her, state Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, has fired his legislative assistant in the wake of her guilty plea to misdemeanor larceny.

Diana London's employment with Steinburg’s office ended on Monday at 5 p.m., the lawmaker said in an email. In a followup phone call on Tuesday, Steinburg claimed he fired London because she had not been forthcoming with him about the existence of a recording incriminating her in the crime to which she pleaded guilty.

London apparently told Steinburg the recording did not exist. District Attorney Andrew Womble said it did, and released it last week.

“That was really the straw that broke the camel's back,” Steinburg said, though he stood by his criticisms of London's prosecution as politically influenced.

Last week, London pleaded guilty in Dare County Superior Court to misdemeanor larceny against Pigman's Bar-B-Que. The agreement also required she repay the restaurant $25,000, but it spared her a charge of felony embezzlement, Womble said last week.

The guilty plea led to an unusual war of words between Womble and Steinburg, as the lawmaker claimed London's prosecution was politically motivated and Womble's office had been used by Steinburg's political opponents in the Republican primary for state Senate. Steinburg ran against Dare County businessman Clark Twiddy this spring, in a costly and contentious campaign. Steinburg won that race, and also won the general election to become the next senator in Senate District 1.

Noting the integrity of his office had been questioned, Womble responded to Steinburg's claims by making evidence against London public. Among other records he provided to The Daily Advance on Thursday was a 27-minute excerpt of a phone conversation between London and Richard Bruce, one of Pigman's owners. In that conversation, London acknowledges that she “stole” from the restaurant. She also admits being negligent in her spending in other instances.

Steinburg said Tuesday he has since listened to the tape, and “it's difficult to refute her own words.” In defending London, he said he had asked her about whether there was an incriminating recording against her, and she had denied it.

Steinburg also said London had not disclosed to him that there were two theft allegations against her from years ago in New York, including an arrest for allegedly stealing someone's credit card after babysitting for them and racking up $1,700 in charges. London was never convicted in either case, so neither incident showed up in her background checks, Steinburg added.

Womble has also confirmed London was not convicted in either case.

In announcing London's termination, Steinburg reiterated his concerns with London's prosecution, but, in deciding to let her go, said that “the public deserves to have trust in public employees.”

“Ms. London did not disclose to me all information that could be construed in any way to support a perception or narrative she is not trustworthy,” Steinburg said in an email. “That perception is a harmful distraction and interferes with our ability to do the public's work.”

Steinburg also said Tuesday that he believed London would not have been prosecuted if she had not been his legislative assistant. He said the owners of Pigman's were strong supporters of Clark Twiddy, his opponent in this year's Republican primary for state Senate, implying they sought criminal charges against London to cause him embarrassment.

Steinburg also stood by his comments that he considers the criminal justice system flawed. While not defending London's conduct, he said even innocent people may accept guilty pleas, given how costly it can be to hire defense attorneys.

With the loss of his legislative assistant, Steinburg said he is searching for a new one for his Senate office, as well as hiring a research analyst. Steinburg has previously said he's seeking additional staff to help him manage the large, 11-county Senate district.

In the interim, Steinburg said he is continuing to answer constituent emails, phone calls and other correspondence.

London also worked for Steinburg's political campaign. Steinburg said London will not be involved in his future campaigns.

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