Fake law school record topples New Hampshire legislator

LITTLETON, New Hampshire Tue May 29, 2012 2:30pm EDT

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LITTLETON, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Republican wunderkind D.J. Bettencourt's rise to the top of New Hampshire politics was meteoric. His fall has been even more spectacular.

Bettencourt, first elected as a state representative at 20, last year at 27 became majority leader of New Hampshire's 400-member House of Representatives after Republicans won a two-thirds majority in the 2010 election.

On Sunday he resigned from the body after admitting he had falsified information about an internship that he needed to graduate this spring from the University of New Hampshire's law school. On Monday, a conservative legal foundation that had planned to hire Bettencourt as its director announced it would no longer do so. And on Tuesday, legislative leaders planned to quickly fill the majority leader position.

The scandal broke after Representative Brandon Giuda, a lawyer and fellow Republican legislator, offered an 11-week internship at his southern New Hampshire legal practice, but Bettencourt showed up only one day for work, Giuda said.

"He approached me and said he was in trouble, he did not have the credits he needed to graduate," Giuda told WMUR, a local television station. "He needed to do an externship or an independent study with me."

Giuda said that he was then surprised to see Bettencourt announcing his graduation from law school this spring and confronted the majority leader about it. Bettencourt then admitted to faking 11 weeks of reports about an internship he had not completed.

"D.J. gave me a full confession," Giuda told the television station. "He said he had fabricated all of the reports because he didn't have the time and he made a lot of excuses."

Neither Bettencourt nor staffers for New Hampshire's House Republican leadership responded to messages about his resignation. He is being replaced as majority leader by his deputy, Peter Silva, a Republican from Nashua.

A spokeswoman for the University of New Hampshire's law school said she could not comment on the allegations against Bettencourt and that administrative reviews of violations of the school's code of conduct were confidential. Penalties for violations of the school's ethics code range from a letter of reprimand to expulsion.

The New Hampshire Legal Rights Foundation, a conservative group that had planned to hire Bettencourt as its director, in a statement on Monday said the allegations against him were "serious enough that we feel it's necessary to sever our emerging relationship."

Bettencourt made national headlines last year after he called the bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese in New Hampshire a "pedophile pimp" on his Facebook page after the bishop criticized GOP budget cuts to programs that aid the poor.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)