CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The State Police searched Department of Health and Human Resources offices in Charleston on Tuesday for evidence that three employees may have illegally interfered with a multi-million dollar marketing contract.
A nine-page search warrant, filed in Kanawha Circuit Court, for the first time indicates to the public why three senior officials were mysteriously placed on paid leave in mid-July.
The three questioned the department's decision to award a marketing contract to the highest bidder. Two of the employees have notified the agency they plan to file suit against it and claim they are whistleblowers.
But Tuesday's search warrant alleges the three unlawfully tried to swing the contract's outcome. The warrant was drafted by DHHR's Office of the Inspector General and issued based on a complaint by State Police Cpl. P.T. Kelly.
The three on leave include two attorneys - DHHR's deputy secretary for legal affairs, Susan Perry, and its general counsel, Jennifer Taylor - and assistant secretary John Law, who handles public relations.
Their attorney, Walt Auvil of Parkersburg, said the search warrant read unlike any he'd ever seen.
"It reads more like a press release than a criminal warrant," Auvil said in a Tuesday night telephone interview.
It's unclear why the department waited nearly two months to formally seek the information from within its own offices.
The warrant alleges the group tried to "favor" Charleston-based Arnold Agency, which narrowly lost the marketing contract to Ohio-based Fahlgren Mortine.
The Arnold Agency was the lowest bidder. Fahlgren was the highest. A number of judgment calls by a three-member evaluation team gave Fahlgren a razor-thin victory.
Last week, an attorney for Perry and Taylor sent acting DHHR Secretary Rocco Fucillo and Attorney General Darrell McGraw an obligatory warning that they plan to sue the state.
They accuse DHHR employees of violating the state's whistleblower law and specifically accuse Fucillo of casting Perry and Taylor in a false light.
The warrant paints a partial picture of what allegedly happened inside DHHR in the weeks and days before Law, Perry and Taylor were put on leave.
The three were not on the committee that evaluated the marketing contract but became involved after that committee finished its work, according to the warrant.
The warrant said that Law "deduced The Arnold Agency was not going to receive the award" during a conversation with Marsha Dadisman, who was a member of the evaluation committee and is one of Law's aides.
Dadisman said Law then "went around campaigning for Arnold to get the contract," according to the warrant.
Law was acting "frenzied," assistant DHHR secretary Nancy Sullivan told investigators, according to the warrant.
At a meeting in late April or early May, Law had a meeting with Sullivan, Taylor and Perry, according to the warrant.
"Mr. Law and Ms. Taylor then discussed concerns about an out-of-state vendor being awarded the contract," according to the warrant. "Jennifer Taylor's husband and stepson both work for Charleston-based advertising and media firm Maple Creative. Susan Perry seemed disinterested in the discussion until Mr. Law said that it would be bad for the Governor in an election year. At that point Ms. Perry stated, 'We can look at it.' "
Maple Creative was not one of the four firms that bid on the DHHR marketing contract. Perry, a Logan County native, is said to be a friend of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's wife, Joanne.
Law and Perry went to Dadisman's office and asked for bid documents, according to the warrant. The documents were locked up as part of an ongoing "blackout period," according to the warrant.
According to the warrant, Law told Dadisman there would be a "legal review" of the award decision, but Dadisman expressed concern about turning over the documents.
"Oh, yeah. No problem. I do this all the time," Perry said, according to the warrant.
The warrant said Perry had not conducted such a review previously.
In any event, they obtained the documents and Taylor began a legal review.
Taylor told DHHR's inspector general that she had extensive work reviewing contracts for the Treasurer's Office.
According to the warrant, Taylor "also stated she is often referred to as 'The Queen of RFPs," a reference to "request for proposals."
DHHR has had recent trouble with some bids handled by its purchasing division. One $200 million computer contract has been rebid twice - once because of unrevealed problems and a second time because the procedure was tainted by a conflict of interest.
A recent legislative audit of the DHHR recommended the department lose the power to award its own contracts without additional oversight.
On May 4, there was a group email exchange among DHHR's top staff about what was going on with the new marketing contract.
At one point, Taylor replied to an email from DHHR purchasing director Bryan Rosen to tell him, "I am reviewing the reviews."