The situation surrounding three Department of Health and Human Resources employees placed on leave unraveled further this week.
"My next question might make some people uncomfortable, but I represent the people of the state, and I've been reading in the newspaper almost every day, relative to three people put on leave," Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam, said during a Sept. 11 interim committee meeting of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resource Accountability where Acting DHHR Secretary Rocco Fucillo was present.
"For the life of me, I can usually figure situations out, but I can't figure this out," Hall said. "I don't know if you'd like to speak publicly about it, but I'd like to have some understanding."
Fucillo told committee members he could not speak to the issue for reasons of personnel and confidentiality.
"For me to comment further would be inappropriate," Fucillo said. "We are following what the processes in place are, and I want the taxpayers to know that, we are doing what's appropriate under the circumstances."
Several hours later, a search warrant secured Sept. 11 by West Virginia State Police Cpl. P.T. Kelly detailed a little more about those circumstances. The search warrant request included the office, phone and computer records of the three officials who have been on unexplained leaves since mid-July: John Law, Susan Perry and Jennifer Taylor.
State agency investigations are usually performed either by the State Police or the FBI, and even though items such as phones and computers for state employees are state property, search warrants often protect the investigation if the items contain personal information.
The search warrant came roughly a week after Parkersburg Attorney Walt Auvil filed a 30-day intent to sue notice to Fucillo and West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw on behalf of Taylor and Perry. That notice was filed Sept. 4, and it claimed actions by Fucillo and the DHHR "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."
The notice invoked the Whistleblower Law.
Previous media reports indicated Taylor and Perry questioned the DHHR's recent decision to award a one-year, $473,000 advertising contract to a company that was not the lowest bidder. Columbus-based Falhgren Mortine received the contract, but Charleston-based The Arnold Agency came in second. Some people allege DHHR employees were trying to get the contract awarded to The Arnold Agency instead.
In fact, Fucillo's assistant is quoted in the complaint for the search warrant as saying Law was acting "frenzied when he became aware vendor The Arnold Agency was not the successful bidder for the advertising contract."
The Sept. 11 search warrant alleges the officials "did unlawfully and feloniously combine, collude or conspire with respect to the purchasing or supplying of commodities or printing to the state with the purpose or effect to cause one prospective vendor or vendors to be preferred over one or more other prospective vendor or vendors."
The search warrant also states Perry agreed to do a "legal review" of the process, and asked for all the contract proposal documents, saying, "No problem. I do this all the time." The warrant states Perry had never performed such a review, but used Taylor to help obtain the documents and perform the review with her.
The search warrant goes on to say during their review, neither Taylor nor Perry asked questions of any evaluation committee members, purchasing staff or officials about the scoring, recommendation or results of the proposal.