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Search warrant issued in DHHR probe

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Kanawha County prosecutor's office has opened a criminal investigation into allegations of misconduct by three Department of Health and Human Resources employees. 

Prosecutor Mark Plants on Tuesday filed a search warrant for records, files, documents and communications in DHHR offices used by attorneys Susan Perry and Jennifer Taylor and spokesman John Law.

"There's some allegations of potential bid-rigging," Plants said. "It's a felony to try to affect the outcome of a state bid."

No charges have been filed against the three, Plants said.

"This is just a preliminary investigation," he said.

The allegations are that Perry, Taylor and Law attempted to interfere with a request for proposal to alter, delay or eliminate the technical scores to favor The Arnold Agency, a Charleston-based ad agency, and remove Columbus-based Fahlgren Mortine as the highest rated vendor.

The three longtime DHHR administrators were placed on paid home reassignment leave on July 17, reportedly because they raised concerns about plans to award an advertising and marketing contract worth about $4 million a year to the highest of four bidders.

Two days after the three were placed on leave, DHHR formally awarded the contract to Columbus Ohio-based Fahlgren Mortine, an action that came more than six months after the bids had originally been opened.

According to the search warrant, Law had discovered in a conversation with DHHR Communications Director Marsha Dadisman that The Arnold Agency was not going to receive the contract because Fahlgren Mortine was the successful bidder.

"Ms. Dadisman was then instructed by Mr. Law, her boss, not to send the final scoring memo because he was 'going to make calls,'" according to the search warrant. "Mr. Law then, according to Ms. Dadisman, 'went around campaigning for Arnold to get the contract.'"

Law expressed concerns that an out-of-state-vendor would get the advertising contract during an election year, and that The Arnold Agency would have to lay off employees, according to the search warrant.

Perry suggested that Taylor do a "legal review" of the bidding process, according to the search warrant.

Perry and Law then asked for the "request for proposal"  documents, including vendor proposals and technical scoring materials, according to the search warrant.

The documents were locked in Dadisman's office for a blackout period that requires bid and scoring information to remain confidential until the award is complete, according to the search warrant.

Dadisman expressed concerns about sharing the information, the search warrant states.

Perry told Dadisman, "'Oh, yeah. No problem. I do this all the time,' " according to the search warrant.

"Ms. Perry in fact had not done this previously," according to the search warrant.

Perry and Taylor then retrieved the documents, the search warrant states.

The search warrant also states that Law went to Health and Human Resources acting secretary Rocco Fucillo about the contract with Fahlgren Mortine.

"I have to speak with you about this contract," he reportedly said to Fucillo, according to the search warrant. "It's not good. You have to work with me on this one."

Fucillo told Law to let the bidding process work, according to the search warrant.

Citing personnel regulations and pending lawsuits, Fucillo told legislators earlier Tuesday that he could not discuss ongoing disciplinary actions against three high-ranking DHHR administrators.

"We cannot speak on it at this time, and I can't," Fucillo told the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability when asked why he placed Perry, Taylor and Law on paid administrative leave in July.

Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam, tried to press Fucillo, suggesting that taxpayers who are paying the suspended administrators' salaries deserve an explanation.

"There's obviously something going on here," Hall said.

Fucillo reiterated that it was inappropriate to comment on personnel matters, particularly since Taylor and Perry earlier this month submitted 30-day notices of intent to sue Fucillo and the department for defamation, invasion of privacy, and gender discrimination.

However, Fucillo added, "I want to assure everyone we are following what the procedures in place are. We are doing what is appropriate under the circumstances."

Tuesday's meeting marked the second time Fucillo, who was named acting secretary in late June after Michael Lewis stepped down for health reasons, has appeared before the Legislature.

Fucillo, who lives in Fairmont, primarily works from a DHHR satellite office in the Middletown Mall.

Last week, Parkersburg lawyer Walt Auvil submitted a four-page letter giving notice of intent to file suit against Fucillo on behalf of Perry and Taylor. The notice contended that Fucillo's actions constitute defamation, invasion of privacy, gender discrimination, and violate the state Ethics Act and whistleblower laws.

"It seems more in the form of a press release than a search warrant,'' Auvil told the Associated Press Tuesday when asked about the search warrant. "But, we certainly look forward to a full investigation.''

In his four-page notice last week, Auvil said "the actions of Mr. Fucillo and other DHHR employees constitute publicity which casts Ms. Perry and Ms. Taylor in a false light in the eyes not only of co-workers and fellow employees, but also third parties and the public at large."

Reach Lori Kersey at 304-348-1240 or lori.kersey@wvgazette.com.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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