Two former staffers for Rep Steven Palazzo (R-MS) are making claims the Congressman has participated in unethical behavior, including using his office to seek special privileges for family members.
While serving as a veterans caseworker for Palazzo, Lela Bremen says she was personally asked by the Congressman to assist in a “secret project.” Bremen claims Palazzo used his position and staff to secure a meeting with the Secretary of the Navy, in hopes of clearing his brother’s name,
Bremen says Kyle Palazzo, younger brother of Steven Palazzo, was charged with fraudulent enlistment after lying about drug use prior to shipping off for basic training. The alleged infraction resulted in the younger Palazzo being discharged from the military and coded RE-4, a designation that would prevent future military service.
When asked to assist in the confidential project, Bremen expressed her hesitation, claiming the office would not go to these lengths for an ordinary citizen and, therefore, should not for a brother of the Congressman.
“I know I’m not supposed to tell you this, but at the end of the day if I get fired for this, I don’t care, because if this comes back, it’s all of us and I’m not willing to take the risk,” Bremen says she told her boss, Michele Gargiulo.
Within days of bringing her concerns to superiors, Bremen’s job at Palazzo’s office was terminated. Bremen received an email detailing a severance package, but in order to receive the money, Bremen would have had to sign a waiver saying she would not speak of anything she learned while working for the Representative. “Nope, hush money won’t work for me,” Bremen replied to the email. “The constituents deserve to know the truth,” she added.
According to Bremen, Palazzo did meet with the Secretary of the Navy in January of 2019, but was told by the Navy the meeting was improper and did not result in a change to Kyle Palazzo’s record. Bremen says the Secretary told Palazzo to “go about it the right way,” indicating he believed Palazzo using his office for special family favors was not the right thing to do.
Bremen says the efforts Palazzo took to help his brother are inconsistent with efforts made for constituents, noting the Congressman would often sneak out of the office when veterans would seek his help. Bremen says on one occasion she was instructed to tell a veteran that the man he saw in the lobby was actually former staffer T.J. Moran, when in fact, it was the Congressman.
Jessica Vera is another former staffer for Rep. Palazzo. She claims the Congressman of ten years uses his staff for personal tasks.
Specifically, Vera says each summer two senior staffers take a week of paid leave to tend to Palazzo’s children. “They get the kids ready for camp, take them, and bring them back,” Vera stated.
This accusation is reminiscent of Palazzo’s first term, when he was forced to pay money to the U.S. Treasury after it was discovered Congressional staff members were providing personal services for the Congressman, like babysitting and moving household furniture.
A spokesperson for Palazzo’s office declined comment on either topic last May. A Freedom of Information Act request has been sent to Palazzo and the Navy asking for emails between the two offices. Neither request has been satisfied as of the time of publishing.
In March of 2019, Palazzo was appointed to serve on the Naval Academy Board of Visitors.
Earlier this month, Palazzo went on the attack, publishing wanted signs depicting Primary opponent, Robert Deming III, an ad campaign which prompted Deming to accuse the Congressman of slandering his name.
Palazzo faces three challengers in the March 10th Mississippi Republican Primary Election for the Fourth Congressional District, Robert Deming III, Carl Boyanton, and Samuel Hickman. There is no Democratic or Independent challenger, so the results of the Primary Election will determine who fills the seat in the coming term.