Prosecutor considers charges in DHHR case
Kanawha County Prosecutor Mark Plants is considering whether to file charges against three state employees who are alleged to have illegally interfered with a multimillion-dollar marketing contract.
Department of Health and Human Resources' Inspector General David Bishop recently gave Plants a report on the marketing contract incident, which has prompted whistleblower lawsuits from two of the DHHR employees targeted by Bishop's investigation.
The ousted trio includes the DHHR's deputy secretary for legal affairs Susan Perry, assistant secretary John Law and general counsel Jennifer Taylor.
In two separate whistleblower lawsuits filed in October, Perry and Taylor blasted the department for a "track record of errors" that they tried to correct before they were barred from their offices by DHHR acting Secretary Rocco Fucillo.
But DHHR's internal investigation appears to point an accusatory finger at them instead.
A lengthy mid-September search warrant accused Perry, Taylor and Law of trying to illegally interfere with the awarding of the contract.
Bishop's report is expected to elaborate on those allegations.
Plants said Bishop's investigation mirrors the warrant. Plants signed off on that search warrant, though Bishop wrote it.
"The basis of the investigation was laid out accurately in the search warrant," Plants said Wednesday.
Perry and Taylor's attorney has called the lengthy search warrant nothing more than a "press release," suggesting the warrant may have been DHHR's attempt to shield itself from mounting criticism. The search warrant authorized DHHR to seize documents that were already in its possession, for instance; and it was issued weeks after the investigation is thought to have begun.
Bishop declined to comment on his report or on the specifics of the case.
But, he said, generally speaking, a search warrant may be lengthy in complex cases.
"As a general rule, if it is a more complex type situation, you want to make sure you can get everybody the information you can," Bishop said, suggesting a judge might want a full explanation of a warrant before it is approved.
For its part, the DHHR trio is thought to have questioned other DHHR officials' decision to award the marketing contract to the highest bidder. A review of state purchasing documents shows a number of judgment calls by DHHR's evaluation team gave the highest bidder, Ohio-based Fahlgren Mortine, a razor-thin victory over the lowest bidder, the Charleston-based Arnold Agency.
Plants said the case file was on his desk. It includes at least hundreds of pages of evidence and witness statements, along with Bishop's findings.
"These allegations are a white collar crime, and typically white collar crime is document-driven so it takes me more time to sift through the thousands of pages we have to sift through," Plants said.
In the meantime, DHHR's internal investigation is not being made public.
DHHR has hired an outside legal team that plans to respond to Perry and Taylor's whistleblower lawsuits on Friday.