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Oregon DOJ finds no evidence to charge Jeff Cogen with crimes

Oregon DOJ finds no evidence to charge Jeff Cogen with crimes

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Oregon attorney general found there is not enough evidence to file charges against former Multnomah County Commission Chairman Jeff Cogen after he admitted to an affair with a county employee, the office said in a press release Friday.

Investigators found that there wasn’t enough evidence showing that Cogen misused county funds while engaged in a nearly two-year extramarital affair with county employee Sonia Manhas. Investigators also concluded that accusations from Manhas that Cogen used illicit drugs could not be proven, either.

A spokesman for the DOJ said the department was prompted to release its findings on Friday after “unauthorized disclosures” to the media earlier in the week revealed Manhas alleged that Cogen had smoked marijuana and used cocaine.

The Justice Department report confirmed that Manhas made the drug allegations when interviewed by investigators and added that Manhas told them Cogen also may have used ecstasy, which had not been previously reported in the media.

Travel Records Examined, Manhas' Promotion Quesitoned

The Justice Department initially started its investigation to determine if Cogen misused county money during the couple’s affair and if he had any undue influence in the promotion of Manhas.

The justice department said its investigators interviewed many witnesses, including Manhas, and reviewed travel records. The DOJ, however, said that Cogen refused to be interviewed by its investigators.

“DOJ further found Cogen and Manhas traveled together or stayed together on various work-related trips. But DOJ uncovered no evidence that county funds were improperly expended on those trips,” the department’s press release said.

According to the DOJ, Manhas used vacation time and paid her own travel expenses when she joined Cogen at a conference in Atlanta.

Investigators said while Cogen did decide to stay in a hotel room that cost more than other rooms, they said county polices allow elected officials discretion about where they stay when traveling on county business.

Also in question was whether Manhas’ promotion in the county's health department to director of policy and planning was unduly influenced by Cogen. Investigators found that there weren't any county policies violated and that Manhas was qualified for the job.

"No evidence was found indicating that Cogen improperly exerted his influence to secure the promotion," the DOJ said. "Although Cogen did recommend favorable budgets for Manhas's department, DOJ found those recommendations were extensively discussed before being approved by the Multnomah County Commission, and were consistent with Cogen's longstanding policy priorities."

No Evidence Cogen Steered Money to Manhas' Budget for Personal Reasons

Additionally, investigators couldn't find any conclusive evidence Cogen unduly influenced an increase in Manhas' budget.

"Everyone interviewed agreed Cogen's political action items, personal beliefs, and historical community actions all align with the work conducted by the Health Department and specifically the projects Mahas (sic) championed," investigators wrote in the DOJ’s report on its investigation into the couple's affair. "Those who knew Cogen before and after his extra-marital affair with Manhas have stated they believe he would have similar focus had she not been involved."

Investigators noted that the extra money for Manhas' budget was discussed in hearings and approved by all the commissioners.

After the Justice Department released its findings, interim county Chair Marissa Madrigal released the following statement.

"The allegations in the Department of Justice report should in no way reflect poorly on the important work that Multnomah County and its employees do every day," she wrote. "Jeff Cogen resigned months ago and the county is committed to moving forward and putting this troubling stretch behind us. The public and employees of Multnomah County deserve the highest caliber of leadership to represent them. It is our hope that the conclusion of the investigation will bring a difficult chapter to a close."

Report and Timeline Detail the Relationship, Alleged Drug Use

A timeline of the couple's affair was included in the report released Friday by the DOJ. From that timeline, it appears that the couple's relationship became intimate in the summer of 2011. On July 29, they kissed for the first time during lunch, and on Aug. 12, they had sex during lunch.

The timeline of the couple’s relationship was based heavily on statements from Manhas through her attorney.

According to that timeline, Manhas and Cogen, during that Aug. 12, 2011 lunch that included having sex, Manhas saw Cogen use marijuana for the first time. Afterward, they went back to work.

The timeline details other times when Cogen was said have used marijuana and other drugs, including his use of pot before or during the 2012 Jazz festival in New Orleans, a parade in St. John’s, the gay pride parade June 16, 2013, and his use of drugs and pot the weekend of his son’s Bar Mitzvah.

On Sept. 27, 2012, Cogen told Manhas he used “controlled substances” during a concert at Edgefield. And in December 2012, friends of Cogen give him ecstasy that he took on a trip to the beach with Manhas, according to the timeline.

The timeline also details the numerous times the couple had sex, when they first kissed and the many times the couple got together.

According to the report, Manhas told investigators that while Cogen told her that he had used cocaine in the past and in the recent past, she never saw him with the drug or his use of it.

Also, she said while she had seen Cogen with ecstasy she didn't see him use it.

"She (Manhas) told me there was one occasion in which they were together when he showed her the pill, telling her it was ecstasy. Manhas said she did not take the pill and did not believe Cogen did either," an investigator said.

Manhas said Cogen "follows the Grateful Dead lifestyle" and described his personality as "the one people know as Chair Cogen, and the 'dead head.'"

Identity of Tipster Revealed

Cogen's admission of an affair with Manhas came after an anonymous email was sent to county commissioners. The email address was 333margiesmith@gmail.com.

The report revealed that the person who sent that email was now-former county employee David Hudson.

Hudson worked for Manhas when Manhas pulled the plug on his plans to bring in a guest lecturer.

He told investigators that “he sent the email because he saw morale was poor and things were not going well in the health department and Manhas had management issues that were effecting (sic) the department."

He quit and is now working on a school health program in Massachusetts.

Manhas stepped down from her county job shortly after her affair with Cogen became public in July. Cogen resigned in September.

Cogen's then-chief of staff, Marissa Madrigal, stepped in to serve as county chair in the interim until voters select a new chair.

KATU News reporter Bob Heye contributed to this report.

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