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Ex-Pence Indiana aide running for Congress defends resume

March 15, 2018

A former Mike Pence aide who was fired from one government job and left another after being formally disciplined wants Indiana voters to send him to Congress, where he would take over for the boss who sacked him, according to a review of public records by The Associated Press.

State records show Diego Morales, a candidate in the GOP primary for the 4th Congressional District, was fired in 2009 by former Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita, who is giving up his reliably Republican House seat to run for Senate.

The disciplinary actions against Morales are part of a resume that also includes embellishments, a spotty work history and murky business dealings.

His campaign didn't respond to several questions from the AP but did insist Morales served as a "senior advisor" to Pence when he was Indiana's governor. Some of Pence's aides have defended Morales' use of the title and endorsed his candidacy. However, the campaign acknowledges his work — including such tasks as event planning and venue preparation — didn't rise to the level of many others who worked under the eventual vice president.

"Diego Morales' service to Indiana and his country are unimpeachable," campaign manager Michael Sorenson said in an emailed statement, noting the 39-year-old Morales is also a veteran.

Morales often touts his role on Pence's staff as he campaigns for the nomination against Steve Braun and state Rep. Jim Baird.

A spokeswoman for the vice president did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Rokita declined to comment on the work habits of his former employee.

Rokita's office formally disciplined Morales after eight months due to "incomplete" work, "inefficient execution" and a "lack of focus," according to records obtained under Indiana's public records act. He refused to agree to a work improvement plan and had filed notice that he intended to quit when he was fired, according to a termination letter.

Two years later, Morales left a different state job after refusing to sign on to a work improvement plan under former Secretary of State Charlie White, who was himself removed from office in 2012 following a voter fraud conviction.

Morales worked just over a month in White's office when he was disciplined for "poor execution," failing to complete his work and leaving the office to attend a "personal function," records show.

His letter of resignation states that he was seeking "new experiences" that would better serve his "future ambitions."

He later landed a gig with Pence in 2013 and was among a large group of staffers awarded a Sagamore of the Wabash, one of the state's highest honors, when Pence was leaving office for Washington.

Morales now enjoys support from a number of GOP powerbrokers and Pence allies, including former chief of staff Jim Atterholt, who encouraged him to use the title "senior advisor," Morales' campaign has acknowledged.

"I considered (Morales) to be a senior adviser to both myself and to Governor Pence," Atterholt wrote in an emailed statement. "Diego represented the Governor at countless events around the state and was critical to being our eyes and ears on how we could be of help to any and all Hoosiers."

At events and in campaign materials, Morales portrays himself as a "business owner," an "adjunct professor" and high-level government worker.

But according to state records and interviews, Morales bounced around government jobs, sometimes lasting little more than a few months. His business, Aiming Higher Services, was administratively dissolved last November. And he was an adjunct instructor — not a professor — at Ivy Tech Community College, though the school system did briefly employ him as a "career resource assistant" for one month in 2010, records show.

"Adjunct instructor is the most accurate terminology," Ivy Tech spokeswoman Kelli Schnetzer said of the four classes Morales taught between 2014 and 2017.

At a February campaign appearance, Morales marveled that he was an embodiment of the American Dream.

"I worked two to three jobs to pay for my college education. I created my business that created jobs. And then I sold it to pursue my MBA at Purdue University. That's the American dream," Morales said.

What kind of business he owned and who they worked for, however, is not clear because the campaign declined comment. Furthermore, the timeline he gave for selling the business to pursue an MBA he received in 2012 does not line up with state records.

The records show Morales didn't dissolve his business until last year when he set his sights on a different job: a seat in Congress.

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