LINCOLN — Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy was a road warrior in his job, driving thousands of miles across the state to deliver speeches and cut ribbons.
But a monthlong investigation by The World-Herald uncovered a secret life during that travel, involving 2,300 phone calls to four women, other than his wife, during the past four years.
Sheehy, who served eight years in his post, resigned abruptly Saturday after the newspaper contacted him Friday about the calls, made on a state-issued cellphone.
The investigation showed that many of the calls to the four women involved long conversations in the middle of the night.
Gov. Dave Heineman said Sheehy offered a resignation letter Saturday morning, after Heineman on Friday afternoon had confronted his handpicked No. 2 about the calls.
The Friday meeting, he said, was prompted by what The World-Herald gave his office that day detailing the volume of the questionable phone calls. Heineman described it as “new information” to him.
“I've got a knot in my stomach. I'm deeply disappointed,” Heineman said at a press conference on Saturday. “He's done a lot of good things for the state, but that trust was broken, and he's resigned.”
The four women Sheehy called regularly include two former elected officials widely known in their communities. One of the women, a Bellevue doctor and former City Council member there, said she had a four-year affair with the lieutenant governor. Another woman, a former school board president and Chamber of Commerce official in Holdrege, did not respond to numerous requests for an interview.
The two other women — one living in Texas, the other in Colorado — told the newspaper that their late-night calls were not sexual in nature.
The governor had turned to Sheehy, a former mayor of Hastings, in 2005 to serve as his right-hand man in the State Capitol, in the hopes that eventually Sheehy would stage his own bid for governor.
He announced that bid in 2011, and, until now, the 53-year-old Sheehy had been considered the leading candidate to succeed Heineman in 2015.
“I doubt he will continue his campaign for governor, and no, I would not support him under the circumstances,” Heineman said Saturday.
Heineman declined to discuss the details of why Sheehy was stepping down other than to say it involved “personal decisions” made by his lieutenant governor.
Two World-Herald reporters attempted to speak with Sheehy on Friday morning about the allegations. Sheehy said he was too busy then to talk but would set up an interview later in the day. He did not do that, however. Sheehy responded only once to a text message, asking Friday night whether a story had been written “already.”
The newspaper investigation found that late at night and early in the morning over the past four years, Sheehy sometimes would call more than one woman a night — sometimes three different women.
The vast majority of the calls came before July 2012, when Sheehy's wife of nearly 29 years, Connie, filed for divorce. The divorce has not been finalized.
Connie Sheehy declined to comment through her attorney, Lucinda Glen of Hastings, who is also her sister.
By all accounts, Rick Sheehy has been a hard-working lieutenant governor, traveling 60,000 miles a year across the state on behalf of the governor.
It's important to point out that most of the calls to the women were made outside his regular office hours. Many of the calls appeared to be placed from hotel rooms when Sheehy was traveling on state business. Others appeared to come from his car as he drove to and from his office at the State Capitol, or to and from meetings and events.
Most of the calls, the records show, were with Michele Ehresman, a former head of the Holdrege Chamber of Commerce and a former school board president there. Ehresman, 40, moved to Lincoln last year to work for the farm and livestock advocacy group We Support Agriculture after filing for divorce from her husband. The divorce became final in October.
From March 2011 through Dec. 7 — the last date of the records obtained by The World-Herald — Sheehy and Ehresman exchanged 1,796 calls. They spent a total of 406 hours on the telephone, either chatting or leaving voice messages.
The phone records indicated the two often would talk in the morning and then several times throughout the evening and even late into the night.
He also frequently called Dr. Theresa Hatcher, the Bellevue physician and former city councilwoman who said they'd had a long affair. She said Sheehy had promised to marry her.
Late one night in September 2009, for example, Sheehy placed a flurry of telephone calls to Hatcher and another woman while staying in Woodlawn, Md. In all, he made eight short calls — possibly voice-mail messages.
Eventually, Hatcher returned Sheehy's calls, and they talked for 79 minutes, hanging up about 3 a.m.
Another day — Oct. 11, 2011 — he spoke several times with three of the women. Four were conversations with Ehresman before 9 a.m., as he drove to a meeting in Omaha. He talked to her again at 3:30 p.m. for 28 minutes.
That night, from Omaha, he talked a total of 73 minutes in two calls to the woman from Colorado Springs, placed a 1-minute call to Ehresman, then talked 25 minutes more with the Colorado woman.
That was followed by two phone calls to Hatcher, ending at 12:50 a.m.
|Gov. Dave Heineman, right, and Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy on Jan. 24, 2005.|
He called Ehresman several times while on a business trip to Puerto Rico, accompanied by his wife. At the time, the Sheehys were staying at the San Juan Resort and Casino, where Rick Sheehy was attending a National Lieutenant Governors Association meeting.
In July 2011, Sheehy called Ehresman on 27 out of 31 days, talking for 852 minutes in 102 conversations. He also called Hatcher 18 times that month, talking for 104 minutes.
By comparison, he exchanged cellphone calls with his wife 14 times that month, and none of the calls lasted longer than 5 minutes.
Sheehy has been the subject of rumors within Republican circles since at least last summer. About a year ago, before his wife filed for divorce, Sheehy was seen at some public places around Lincoln with Ehresman. Witnesses said they saw the two hugging and holding hands.
Such reports prompted The World-Herald in December to request the lieutenant governor's cellphone and office phone records over the past four years. The newspaper also requested email correspondence with Hatcher and Ehresman. Expense reports also were reviewed. No red flags were indicated in the expense, email or office phone records.
Sheehy's cellphone records show he talked with Hatcher 367 times, mostly from 2009 through 2011.
Hatcher, who is single, has worked in both Omaha and Sheehy's hometown of Hastings.
She told The World-Herald she became romantically involved with him after meeting him at an out-of-state meeting for emergency responders in 2008. As lieutenant governor, Sheehy headed the state's homeland security efforts.
Hatcher, 53, described rendezvous in Omaha's Old Market and driving to motels in towns Sheehy was visiting. She said they also engaged in long, sexually charged phone calls when he was on the road and unable to meet her.
Hatcher served as “doctor of the day” at least twice last spring in the Legislature, where Sheehy, as lieutenant governor, often presided.
At least once, she acknowledged, she was warned by Clerk of the Legislature Patrick O'Donnell not to distract Sheehy.
She said that Sheehy told her he was unhappily married and that he planned to divorce his wife and build a new life with her.
|Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy reads Dr. Seuss to fourth graders at Bancroft Elementary on March 2, 2005.|
“That was the plan,” Hatcher said.
She said she acted on that belief, purchasing a loft in downtown Hastings in September 2010 and hiring a contractor to undertake a $350,000 renovation.
Court records indicate that in May 2011 she stopped making the $29,000-a-month payments for the renovation. Hatcher said Sheehy had broken off his relationship with her about that time, so she abandoned the home-building project.
She said they later reconciled, then broke up several more times before their final liaison, last June.
Sheehy's wife filed for divorce a month later, but Hatcher said that instead of hearing from her former lover, she heard rumors about him having an affair with another woman.
“He said, 'Oh, no. They're just rumors. Don't listen to them,'” she said.
Hatcher said she “retired” her relationship with Sheehy recently by buying a new ring and putting away a photograph of herself taken with him at the Governor's Inaugural Ball in January 2011.
“I just don't understand it,” she said of his new relationship.
She added that she now regrets her relationship with him and any anguish it might have caused Sheehy's wife.
“I regret now that many of my understandings and impressions about his marital status were later found to be inaccurate,” she said. “I have nothing but the utmost respect for Rick and Connie and wish them both nothing but the best, both personally and professionally.”
The unmarried Colorado woman whom Sheehy frequently phoned beginning in October 2011 and continuing through 2012 said there was never anything sexual in their long, late-night conversations.
The woman, who is in her mid-40s, said she met with Sheehy only once, at an event she declined to divulge. He began calling shortly afterward, she said, talking to her sometimes for more than an hour.
Over a 10-month period, Sheehy called the Colorado woman 35 times, talking for a total of 12.4 hours.
The woman, who sought work as an actress or model over the Internet, said they talked about things like golf and hunting. She also stressed that they were no longer friends.
“I have a feeling I wasn't the only friend he had,” said the woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The Texas woman, in her early 50s, said there was nothing “improper” in their frequent telephone calls. She said they were childhood friends from Hastings who had reconnected at a school reunion.
She also said she sometimes “felt sorry” for Sheehy because he appeared to be lonely.
“We'd talk about people and what they're doing. I think he traveled a lot and he'd just get bored and call,” said the woman, who is single and who spoke on the condition she not be identified.
Altogether, the Texas woman and Sheehy talked for 10 hours over a three-year period, logging 122 calls.
Heineman's office is now reviewing the phone records to determine whether Sheehy should reimburse the state for the 2,300 calls, lasting a total of more than 28,000 minutes, made from the state-issued cellphone over the past four years to the four women.
State law prohibits the use of such phones for personal calls, unless they are for “essential personal business,” according to Brenda Decker, the state's chief information officer, whose agency issues cellphones to state employees.
Under the law, such calls should be held to a minimum and not disrupt the performance of state business.
At his press conference Saturday, Heineman said he did not believe Sheehy's calls would rise to a criminal matter.
“Reimbursement to the state is a possibility,” he said. The cellphone had been deactivated by Saturday morning.
In its most recent report of campaign finances, the Sheehy for Governor fundraising committee reported raising $160,100 during 2012 for a gubernatorial run. It reported having $203,000 in campaign funds on hand as of Jan. 1.
There was no word Saturday about whether those campaign donations would be returned and the campaign shut down.
At his press conference, the governor declined to say whether he had asked Sheehy to resign, saying only that Sheehy had done so and “we're moving on.”
“As public officials, we're held to a higher standard. Rightly so,” Heineman said. “This has happened very, very rapidly. On Monday, I will begin to think about who is an appropriate lieutenant governor for the future.”
Heineman also said he wasn't offended by The World-Herald's request for Sheehy's records.
“I believe in our public records and transparency in government,” Heineman said. “We as government officials live in a very public arena, and that's the way it should be. I believe in transparency.”
World-Herald chief librarian Jeanne Hauser contributed to this report
Contact the writers: 402-473-9584, firstname.lastname@example.org; 402-444-1309, email@example.com
The World-Herald filed a request with the Lieutenant Governor's Office on Dec. 18, under the Nebraska public records statute, for Rick Sheehy's state-issued cellphone and office phone call records for 2009 through 2012.
The newspaper also asked for Sheehy's emails during that period related to two women, including Dr. Theresa Hatcher of Bellevue.
The state provided the records Jan. 4.
World-Herald reporters Paul Hammel and Robynn Tysver spent more than 50 hours analyzing the contents of the records.
A pattern emerged of repeated phone calls to four women, often late at night, on the state-issued cellphone.
Last week, reporters began contacting the women. On Thursday evening, the reporters requested an interview with Sheehy.
After he didn't respond, they stopped at an event where he was speaking Friday morning and requested an interview. Sheehy said he was too busy then to talk but would set up an interview later in the day. He never followed through.
On Friday, the newspaper also detailed the results of its investigation to the Governor's Office and asked for comment from Sheehy and Gov. Dave Heineman. Those requests were denied.
Instead, Heineman met with Sheehy late Friday afternoon, and Sheehy resigned Saturday morning.
Heineman announced the resignation at a midmorning press conference, and at midday released Sheehy's cellphone records to other news outlets.