Wyoming’s Senate president defended a free jet trip colleagues took with Casper businessman Tony Cercy, now charged with sexual assault, while a watchdog says legislators should exercise discretion when accepting such gifts.
Cercy flew lawmakers on his private plane to Kansas, six weeks before the day he allegedly sexually assaulted a 20-year-old woman. Prosecutors charged Cercy, age 55, with three counts of sexual assault. The case is in circuit court, and he has not yet entered a plea, according to the Natrona County Circuit Court clerk’s office.
“Let the process and the law work, and it’s still America where a man is innocent until proven guilty,” Senate President Eli Bebout (R, SD-26, Riverton) told WyoFile in a voicemail message.
“As to whether or not the members of the legislature should’ve attended that [jet] trip, we did an analysis of that and clearly it’s authorized within our statutes and our rules and from there on it’s up to each individual legislator to make their own decision,” he said. Bebout was not on the trip.
On May 16, WyoFile reported Cercy planned to fly 20 legislators to Kansas over the course of two days. The purpose of the trip was to look at a distribution facility for wind turbines. The company lawmakers visited, Transportation Partners and Logistics LLC, has its corporate headquarters in Casper and a distribution facility in Garden City, Kansas. The distribution facility moves wind turbines that are manufactured elsewhere, company president Jim Orr told WyoFile at the time.
Lawmakers who went on Cercy’s free jet trip toured a rail yard where the company stored wind turbines, and learned how Garden City had attracted the company and worked with them, said Sen. Tara Nethercott (R, SD-4, Cheyenne), who went on the trip. She did not recall meeting Cercy on the trip, she said.
The charges brought against Cercy should not affect any ideas for advancing Wyoming’s economy that were generated in Kansas, she said.
“It’s important to distinguish between the fact that this is one individual and the conversation is so much bigger than him,” Nethercott said.
If there’s a lesson to be learned from lawmakers’ trip with Cercy, it’s separate from the sexual assault charges, said Marguerite Herman, a government transparency advocate and lobbyist for the League of Women Voters in Wyoming. “Ostensibly the two things are unrelated,” she said.
Lawmakers in Wyoming do not have much of a budget for travel, she said, and that makes them open to gifts like Cercy’s. She called for lawmakers to show more awareness of the gifts they’re receiving and what may be at stake. “There are no free gifts,” she said. “A lot of the gifts come with expectation of access or maybe even a welcoming ear.”
“The fact that the individual was charged with a crime doesn’t really inform that debate which I think continues to be problematic for our citizen legislature,” she said.
The trip was organized through the Casper Area Economic Development Alliance, Speaker of the House Steve Harshman (R, HD-37, Casper) said at the time. Cercy is listed as a board member for CAEDA. He offered to provide a plane to fly lawmakers to visit the Kansas facility at no cost to taxpayers, Harshman said.
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Cercy was not involved in Transportation Partners and Logistics LLC and was acting as a CAEDA board member, Harshman said. Cercy is now retired, according to his LinkedIn profile, but was once the president of an oilfield service company sold to industry giant NOW Inc, according to the Casper Star-Tribune. Harshman did not respond to a voicemail or email requesting comment for this story.
Authorities suspect Cercy of sexually assaulting the woman on June 24 or 25, according to the charges and supporting affidavit. The defendant’s name was redacted in the affidavit. Cercy was arrested on July 28 and appeared in court on July 31, where he did not say anything and was released on a $100,000 bond, according to the Casper Star-Tribune.