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Homeland Security official resigns over sex allegations

By Katherine Skiba, Chicago Tribune –

WASHINGTON — A senior official in the Homeland Security Department resigned Saturday while denying allegations that she made inappropriate sexual advances to several male employees in Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Suzanne Barr was chief of staff to John Morton, director of ICE, one of the country’s largest law enforcement agencies.

Barr, a former top aide to Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, joined the department in early 2009 after President Barack Obama named Napolitano as secretary of Homeland Security.

In her resignation letter, Barr told Morton that she had been the focus of “unfounded allegations designed to destroy my reputation.”

She said she was concerned that the allegations could damage the agency’s reputation so was stepping down “with great regret.” ICE confirmed that she had resigned.

Barr was named in a sexual discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed in May by James T. Hayes Jr., the top ICE official in New York. He alleged a “frat house” atmosphere at ICE aimed at humiliating men who worked there. Hayes is asking for more than $4 million in the lawsuit.

Two other agency employees later came forward and filed affidavits complaining of inappropriate sexual behavior by Barr.

The Associated Press reported that in one affidavit, Barr is accused of telling a male subordinate he was “sexy” and asking about his anatomy at an office party. In a second complaint, she is accused of offering to perform a sex act with a male employee during a business trip in Bogota, Colombia. She also was accused of phoning a male subordinate from her hotel room and offering to perform a sex act. The AP said the names of Barr’s accusers were redacted from the affidavits.

In her letter, Barr said the allegations against her “are unfounded and without any merit, and I am confident that my reputation will be restored.”

In mid-August, ICE officials said that Barr had taken a leave of absence pending the outcome of two reviews of the allegations. The Homeland Security inspector general’s office is conducting one review, and ICE’s office of professional responsibility is conducting the other.

Brian Hale, an ICE spokesman, said Saturday that Morton had received the resignation letter. “We wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors,” Hale said.

Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement Saturday that the resignation “raises the most serious questions about management practices and personnel policies at the Department of Homeland Security.” King said his committee would intensify its review of the case.

Barr helped direct operations, activities and policies for ICE, which has 20,000 employees in 670 domestic and international offices and a budget of more than $5.7 billion, according to its website.

A LinkedIn profile of Barr said that, while at ICE, she had coordinated policy guidance and critical activities with the White House. “I represent the agency with officials at all levels of government — local, state and federal — as well as with foreign counterparts,” the profile said.

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