Rebecca Burgin, a long-time girlfriend of former North Carolina Democratic Party executive director Jay Parmley, told The Daily Caller that she believes Parmley infected her with HIV. Parmley resigned on April 15 amid sexual harassment allegations from a former young male staffer.
Burgin, a 29-year-old Oklahoman, has shared her story with TheDC, including the revelation that Parmley’s lawyer offered her health coverage, paid for by the Democratic National Committee, to manage her illness. She ultimately declined that offer, fearing it would constitute insurance fraud. Parmley, she said, later abandoned her.
On April 13, TheDC first exposed allegations, leveled in December by former North Carolina Democratic Party communications staffer Adriadn Ortega, that Parmley showed him a picture of a penis, gave him unwanted shoulder rubs and made apparent sexual advances toward him. Ortega also alleged that Parmley discussed with him in detail his past sexual activity, including “solicit[ing] sex from gay websites.”
Parmley’s ex-girlfriend Rebecca Burgin told TheDC that Parmley forever changed her life by making her HIV-positive. She’s worried, she said, that Parmley may have done to someone else what he did to her.
“My motivation for talking to you was that I have read the articles, I have read the letter [that Ortega sent to Parmley detailing sexual harassment allegations] and everything like that,” Burgin said.
“And after Jay and I broke up, the biggest concern that I had was, ‘what if this happened to somebody else? Would he do this to someone else?’ … My biggest concern is for anybody else that has had a relationship with him that he did not tell.”
Burgin told TheDC that she believes Parmley “prey[s] on” younger adults like her and Ortega.
“When Jay and I met, I was 20 and he was 32,” she said. “To me, it seems to be a pattern, potentially. … The unnerving thing to me is that it looks like he uses his position of authority to prey on younger adults.”
Burgin said she doesn’t know when or how Parmley contracted HIV. The World Health Organization reports that while patients often have flu-like symptoms a few months after they are first infected, HIV “may remain dormant and asymptomatic for years until it surfaces suddenly.”
Parmley served as national president of the Young Democrats of America from 1999 to 2001, then becoming executive director and chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party until 2005. It was during this period that he and Burgin dated.
In 2005, he left Oklahoma to become a Mississippi state liaison to the Democratic National Committee under chairman Howard Dean, during the former Vermont governor’s 50-state strategy campaign. He took a similar role in South Carolina in 2007, and became executive director of the South Carolina Democratic Party in 2009. In May 2011, the North Carolina Democratic Party hired him as its executive director.
While Parmley led the Oklahoma Democratic Party, he also taught politics courses at Oklahoma City Community College. “He taught like one or two classes per semester,” Burgin said.
“I met him — I was a student in college and he was my American Government professor,” she told TheDC in a phone interview. “Upon completing that class, we started dating. We dated for a little over three years.”
“January 2, 2004, was our first date,” she recalled.
But in July 2005, Howard Dean recruited Parmley and he was on his way to Mississippi.
“I’m not exactly sure the extent of their communications,” Burgin said, “but [Democratic former Mississippi] Gov. David Walters was very close to Howard Dean and that was how Jay kind of got put on Howard’s radar.”
Around October 2006, after more than 14 months of a long-distance relationship, Parmley became “debilitating[ly] sick” in Mississippi, she said.
Former Mississippi Democratic Party chairman Rickey Cole told TheDC that he and his wife took Parmley to the hospital “because he had lost a great deal of weight and couldn’t keep anything in his stomach.”
And then came Thanksgiving, when Burgin said she was hit with the news that would change her life forever.
“He had called my parents and asked them that they call me and have me come over,” Burgin said. ”and that I needed to call him. And so I called him, and it was at that point that he told me the doctors had tested him for HIV. And that he was HIV positive. And that I needed to be tested.”
Burgin said Parmley said that he had told Cole, a fellow Democratic operative, about his HIV status before her.
Cole refused to talk about the timing, or to acknowledge that he knew Parmley had contracted HIV.
“I don’t know what his timing was in telling who what, but I’m not going to talk about his health,” Cole said, although he had already relayed the story about taking Parmley to the hospital.
After Burgin found out Parmley was HIV-positive, she was tested. And the news confirmed her worst fears. “Unfortunately,” she told TheDC, “because it was a holiday weekend, they rushed the lab work but they couldn’t get it turned around in 24 hours. And so when my doctor called me … he told me I was HIV-positive.”
Burgin voluntarily provided TheDC with medical records showing the date and result of her HIV test. But she never learned where Parmley contracted the virus in the first place, and from whom.
“He wouldn’t talk about it,” she said. “He wouldn’t really discuss it. He wouldn’t. I was concerned about someone that I love, and I would try to ask leading questions to see if I could get him to open up. But he never would.”
Today, she’s thankful that her HIV infection is manageable and frustrated that her life will never be the same again.
“There are still times where it’s tough. I will be honest: I haven’t been in a relationship since Jay, mainly because I don’t want to get hurt again. Also, I have to — by law, because I’ve been diagnosed with HIV — if you are HIV-positive, you have to disclose to any sexual partners your status before you have sex with them, or you can have charges brought against you.”
“How exactly do I have this conversation with somebody? It’s not something where you go, ‘Oh, and by the way, I’m HIV-positive.’”
In Oklahoma, and in every state where Parmley has lived since he and Burgin were a couple, the law requires exactly that.
Oklahoma Statute Title 21 Section 1192.1 makes it a felony, punishable by five years in prison, to “knowingly engaging in conduct reasonably likely to transfer HIV virus” without a sexual partner’s prior consent. In Mississippi, Section 97-27-14 of the state criminal code allows a ten-year prison term for “knowingly expos[ing] another person to a human immunodeficiency virus” without ”prior knowledge and willing consent.”
In South Carolina, Section 44-29-145 of the Code of Laws makes it a crime “for a person who knows that he is infected with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) to knowingly engage in sexual intercourse … with another person without first informing that person of his HIV infection.
North Carolina approaches the spread of disease somewhat differently for citizens who are HIV-positive.
“They need to disclose [it] to sexual partners, and they should use a condom,” Jacquelyn Clymore, the HIV/STD director for the North Carolina Department of Health, told TheDC.
Clymore added that North Carolinians who have tested positive for HIV are also required to notify past sexual partners of their status.
“There’s basically two ways that someone who tested positive can basically handle that situation,” she said. “They can notify their partners themselves that they’ve been exposed to HIV, and that he or she has just tested positive.” The person can also elect to provide the health department’s “Disease Intervention Specialists” (DIS) with “those names, and the contact information of someone who might be at risk … and our DIS will reach out to them.”
Failure to comply is “considered a misdemeanor in North Carolina … punishable by a fine and up to two years imprisonment,” Clymore said.
But as Burgin found out, being notified about exposure to HIV can be just the beginning of a long, painful process. Parmley wouldn’t give her answers, and he wanted out of the relationship.
“I got angry,” she said.
“I finally said, ‘you know what, I’ve tried, I’ve tried, I’ve tried, I’ve tried. I have not assumed, I have not accused, I have not said anything,’” Burgin recalled. “The only thing I have tried to do is say, ‘you know, we can do this together and it’s going to be okay, [but] you are leaving me high and dry to deal with this. And I don’t know how to deal with it. And I’m not going to deal with it well on my own.’”
“I got angry and I called an attorney and asked, ‘what can I do, if anything?’”
“So, I sat down and wrote a letter,” Burgin explained. “I laid it all out and then said I want a life insurance policy, and that I want health insurance coverage, basically, for the rest of my life.”
“I was not looking for money, I was not looking for some big payoff to keep my mouth shut,” Burgin added. “That wasn’t my concern. My concern was that my life has gotten completely blown to pieces, and I so needed to kind of figure out how I can move forward and figure this out.”
Her attorney sent that letter to Parmley and “took it to a meeting with his [Parmley’s] attorney, Jim Frasier.”
Frasier, then Parmley’s personal attorney, is currently one of 100 delegates to the Democratic National Committee.
“Frasier,” Burgin continued, “came back and said, ‘what we will provide for her is that she can remain on the DNC’s health insurance and the DNC would pay for it’ for — I think that they said — as long as Jay’s employed there.”
Burgin said that the DNC was already providing her with health insurance while she was dating Parmley. The party’s policy at the time, she said, was that “their employees can have one other person on their health insurance.”
Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse did not respond to TheDC’s requests for comment about whether the party’s health insurance plan allows employees to extend their own coverage to include boyfriends and girlfriends.
Burgin said she considered Parmley’s and Frasier’s offer, but “by that point, I was kind of like — and excuse my language — ‘Screw off!’” she said.
“I then thought … ‘well, isn’t that insurance fraud?’” she recalled.
“I was not with him anymore, and if insurance companies found out, couldn’t they just immediately drop me? What if Blue Cross and Blue Shield comes in and does an audit and sees I am no longer with him, and don’t live in the same household as him? Then they’d go, ‘well, this doesn’t work,’ and I’d lose my health insurance.”
Burgin said turned down the offer. “I ended up opting for the COBRA … paying the premiums myself.”
COBRA Continuation Coverage Assistance permits health plan members to continue their coverage, at their own expense, for up to 18 months after their insurance would otherwise be discontinued.
North Carolina Democratic Party chairman David Parker continues to defend his former executive director in the face of sexual harassment allegations. During a press conference last week, Parker claims he fully vetted Parmley before hiring him in 2011.
“In four different states where he has been on staff, no one — and I mean no one — and I don’t know who in this room has tried to track down people in other states, but if you heard something bad about Jay Parmley, frankly I would be shocked because I vetted him as thoroughly as I could,” Parker told reporters.
“Never any allegations before. No allegations from anyone else on the staff. He gets along well with men and women, young and old, gay and straight, black and white, conservative and liberal. He’s a friendly guy. That’s who the man is.”
Parmley did not respond to multiple voicemails and emails seeking comment.
Burgin told TheDC that meanwhile her life, and her fight with HIV, goes on.
“I am still in Oklahoma City. I never left Oklahoma,” she said. “All of this very much changed the outlook on my — it changed a lot of who I was and what I believed in.”
“I was the first one to believe, for all intents and purposes, that everyone was a good person, but that circumstances happened that turned them into bad people.”
“After all of this, I question that,” Burgin told TheDC. “I feel like a part of me has died because that was kind of my thing — that ‘everybody was a good person, it’s just circumstances that happen.’”
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