Josh Shapiro’s star is rising. But trouble may be brewing back at home.

BEDFORD, N.H. — As Gov. Josh Shapiro takes his first concrete steps on the national stage, a cloud of a scandal involving one of his former top aides is emerging back home.

Last week, Mike Vereb, a member of Shapiro’s cabinet and a longtime ally to the Pennsylvania Democratic governor, abruptly resigned. A day later, local outlets reported that a former female aide to Vereb alleged that he had sexually harassed and retaliated against her.

According to the accuser, it was a well-traveled rumor in Harrisburg that Vereb, who was Shapiro’s secretary of legislative affairs and a former Republican state representative, behaved inappropriately with women. In an interview statement she gave to the state’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity, obtained by POLITICO, she said that Vereb had said he was “vetted previously by the governor on this topic” and “promised the governor that this would not be an issue again coming into this office.”

The accuser left her position in March. She was interviewed by EEO investigators later that month and made a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission in June, according to the documents and people familiar with the process. Vereb did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The woman’s claims raise questions about exactly how much Shapiro knew about Vereb’s alleged behavior and why months elapsed between the complaint being made and his departure. They also threaten to cut at the heart of the governor’s political identity.

While previously serving as attorney general, Shapiro was at the forefront of combating sexual misconduct in the Catholic Church. He released a high-profile grand jury report into sex abuse by Catholic clergy. He has also positioned himself as a staunch defender of women’s rights and legal abortion in the state.

In an interview with POLITICO, Shapiro said he could not respond directly to several questions, including when he first learned of the complaint and whether he asked Vereb to leave. But he pointed to his history of fighting sexual harassment and abuse.

“I have a long and extensive track record of standing up for victims of sexual abuse, harassment. I led, I think, the most comprehensive investigation on behalf of victims of clergy sex abuse, prosecuted hundreds of sexual predators,” he said. “I have done extensive work with victims, listening to their stories, investigating their stories, and standing up for them. So I’ll take a back seat to no one when it comes to standing up for victims.”

While two former Shapiro aides have disputed portions of the woman’s claims, Shapiro declined to address the specifics, saying that “a very thorough investigative process” takes place when a state employee alleges they were a victim of harassment on the job.

“It is important to me that this be an environment where everyone feels safe, everyone feels heard, and everyone feels seen,” Shapiro said. “Obviously these investigations — and again, I’m speaking generally, and I think it’s really important that you understand that — these things don’t happen overnight. They can be lengthy processes. But it’s important, and I know this from my time as attorney general advocating for victims, it’s really important to make sure that everyone be heard and that the process be thorough and complete.”

Vereb’s accuser declined a request for an interview. The woman’s lawyer, Chuck Pascal, would not comment on the interview statement and PHRC complaint’s authenticity or whether his client had entered into a settlement or non-disclosure agreement. POLITICO was able to confirm the documents’ authenticity.

While the Vereb story has not yet resonated much beyond the state, it comes at a delicate time for Shapiro. The governor is seen as a rising star in the party and has long been rumored to be eyeing a presidential run in 2028 or beyond. This past weekend, he traveled to the early presidential primary state of New Hampshire to deliver a speech that introduced him to voters there and further stirred speculation about his political ambition.

Some lawmakers in Harrisburg have voiced concerns about the allegations about Vereb and the Shapiro administration’s handling of the matter. Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward, a Republican, said it is “infuriating” that Vereb stayed in his job for months after he was accused of sexual harassment. A handful of other GOP female state lawmakers have criticized the Shapiro administration over how it has dealt with the claims. Democratic state Sen. Lindsey Williams has also publicly expressed concerns about the woman’s allegations and the reported retaliation she faced.

In a sign of the sensitivity surrounding the matter, Shapiro met behind closed doors Wednesday with female Democratic state senators about the issue, as well as state Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, two people familiar with the discussion said. Shapiro’s chief-of-staff, general counsel and lieutenant governor were also present.

In her interview statement and the PHRC complaint, which was also obtained by POLITICO, Vereb’s accuser said that he made multiple unwanted sexual comments to her.

The accuser, whose name POLITICO is withholding, said in the statement that she began working for the Shapiro administration in January and took the job because the governor “is a one-of-a-kind leader.” In February, she said, she was in a meeting with Vereb and other aides when a female senator came up in conversation. She said Vereb said he “had a way of handling” the senator, and explained that at one point in her office “he could have sworn she wanted to have sex with him.”

A former Shapiro aide, who was granted anonymity because they said they feared retribution, disputed the remarks that Vereb allegedly made about the female senator. The ex-aide said they were present when Vereb spoke about the senator, and that the comments were not sexual in nature. The person also said that Vereb had criticized several staffers for having “cutesy” meetings, but he did not mean it sexually.

Around the same time as the alleged episode involving the female senator, Vereb’s accuser said that he chastised her for a meeting with a legislative official, saying that she was having a “cute little lunch, looking all cute in the capital cafeteria and that it was a waste of my time.” She also said in her complaint that other aides in the administration had joked to her about Vereb and her having a sexual relationship.

The accuser said the comments quickly got worse. In late February, she said she told Vereb about rumors involving his behavior. She claimed Vereb demanded to know who was behind the gossip and said in response, “If you told me right now that you wanted me, if you decided you wanted to enter into that type of arrangement, that would be our choice. I mean, you are a beautiful woman.”

She said Vereb also told her, “If you decided you wanted to do that, and go close the door to this office, tell me to bend you over this conference table, hike your skirt up, and fuck you from behind, that would be our decision to make.”

Vereb’s accuser said that he advised her to “wear lower cut tops and shorten the slits in your skirts.” She said she told Vereb she was not interested in any sexual relationship with him, to which he responded, “well fuck you then!”

She said Vereb later called her that evening, and said he was “really concerned about our conversation earlier” and continued to make sexual comments about her.

The next day, she said she received an invite “from HR” for an hour-long discussion. When she asked Vereb about it, she said, he talked about “performance concerns” — the first time he mentioned such issues.

During the Human Resources meeting in March, the accuser said she told officials about the rumors involving Vereb as well as other concerns.

Afterward, she said, she was told by Vereb and other aides that they had performance concerns about her. At that point, she said she told them she was walking out and detailed the sexual harassment by Vereb.

The former Shapiro aide who disputed portions of the accuser’s claims also defended the Shapiro administration’s handling of the matter, saying that they were interviewed for two-and-a-half hours in March by the EEO. “The governor’s office most certainly did do an investigation. They did exactly what they were supposed to do,” the ex-aide said.

A second former Shapiro aide, who was granted anonymity to talk freely about a sensitive matter, disputed claims that the accuser made, saying that they were not present during an event that the accuser said they were at. The person also said they were interviewed by the EEO in March.

At a press conference Thursday about state investments in local trails and parks, Shapiro was asked by reporters about his handling of the Vereb allegations. He said that he is focused on creating a “healthy, safe, professional work environment for all of our employees,” and that “victims and witnesses, complainants, they all deserve confidentiality” even “if some in the process don’t follow those rules of confidentiality.” Asked about Ward, the Republican Senate president pro tempore who has criticized his administration’s approach to the sexual harassment claims, Shapiro said to “consider the source.”

Vereb has been a longtime ally to Shapiro. They were state lawmakers together, both hailing from the Philadelphia suburbs in Montgomery County, for several years. As attorney general, Shapiro tapped Vereb in 2017 to be his director of government affairs.

When Vereb left his secretary job, but before the news broke about the sexual harassment allegations, Shapiro’s administration praised him in official remarks. “Mike has been a key member of our team and thanks to his dedicated service, the Governor’s Office is prepared for the work ahead,” Shapiro’s chief of staff, Dana Fritz, said in a statement. “We wish Mike all the best and we’re grateful for his service.”


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