Former Maine CDC director: FBI investigating agency that shredded public documents

Posted Jan. 24, 2014, at 2:51 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The former division director who first alleged wrongdoing at the Maine Center for Disease Control said she has spoken to the FBI as a part of a federal investigation into the department.

Sharon Leahy-Lind said Friday in an interview with the Sun Journal that she has “fully cooperated with the FBI” while investigators there look into issues within the CDC.

It is unclear what, specifically, the investigation is centered on. A spokesman for the CDC did not immediately return a request for comment.

Leahy-Lind was working as the director of the Division of Local Public Health when, she said, her bosses at the Maine CDC ordered her to destroy public documents and then harassed and assaulted her when she refused. Those documents, she said, showed the scoring results for the 27 Healthy Maine Partnerships, or HMPs, at the center of a 2012 controversy over state funding. She said the scoring was manipulated to favor certain organizations over others.

Those scores determined which organizations got the biggest share of more than $4 million in state funding.

Leahy-Lind said she refused to destroy the documents and instead stored them in files at her office. As a result, she said, she was harassed and assaulted.

She filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission last spring. That complaint led to an investigation by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, or OPEGA.

OPEGA’s report, released in December, found a host of problems with the way the CDC handled funding for the HMPs in 2012. Included in that report: supervisors ordering the destruction of public documents, funding criteria that was changed during the selection process, Healthy Maine Partnerships funding scores that were changed just before the final selection, documents that were created after the fact in response to Freedom of Access Act requests, a $500,000 tribal contract that seemed to appear out of nowhere and a critical HMP scoring sheet that vanished.

The Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee met Friday to discuss that report and consider possible actions.

Leahy-Lind was at the meeting and granted a rare interview during a committee break. She said she “sounded the alarm” to CDC leadership when she was first ordered to destroy documents.

“I thought someone would step in. I thought someone would take action,” she said.

But little happened.

Since filing her complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission and the more recent filing of a lawsuit, Leahy-Lind said she and her lawyer have cooperated with every group looking into issues at the department.

“We’ve met with DHHS leadership in any investigative process they wanted me involved in. We’ve met numerous times with the Attorney General’s Office to provide information and to give my perspective,” she said. “I’ve fully cooperated with OPEGA and the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee in their work. And I’ve fully cooperated with the FBI.”

Leahy-Lind said her decision not to shred documents — an activity she called “illegal and unethical” — has cost her. In July she resigned her position at the CDC, saying then that she was treated with disdain and disrespect and had been denied basic work tools after her complaints became public.

“The entire state system turned on me. That is disconcerting,” she said. “The message I received and that I hope isn’t going to be a legacy for state government or public service is if you come forward to report a crime, the system will turn on you and you will lose your job.”

Although coming forward has been difficult, she said, she has been happy to see lawmakers take OPEGA’s report seriously. A number of the concerns raised in that report mirrored Leahy-Lind’s allegations.

“This has been incredibly heartening that people are digging deep. They’re getting the information. Although there are still missing pieces of the puzzle, I think there’s a tremendous amount of information that’s come forward that’s extremely important to the people of Maine.”

Leahy-Lind said she would like to see the state create a nonpartisan ombudsman position for managers so they have a neutral party to go to when they have serious complaints or concerns. Managers, unlike other state workers, are not part of a union and do not have a union representative to help them.

“There is no established path, so I was pretty much on my own,” she said. “I think it’s critically important that no public servant be faced with what I was faced with and have nowhere to go with that information after reporting it up the chain of command and getting no response.”

 

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