Whistleblower claims executive to cozy with providers
A co-worker claims Public Employee Benefits Program executive officer Woody Thorne and his executive staff have become too cozy with benefit providers, accepting gifts, including a trip to San Antonio, Texas, and numerous lunches and dinners.
The allegations are some of the same charges that were extensively reviewed in two closed-door personnel sessions lasting a total of nearly six hours.
At the conclusion of those hearings Monday, the benefits program board unanimously agreed nothing in the evidence indicates Thorne or other members of his management team acted inappropriately. And all but one agreed that the evidence was unsubstantiated and doesn’t warrant disciplinary action against Thorne.
The complaint was filed with the state as a Whistle Blower action by program analyst Patty Raphael in March. She charged that Thorne and executive staffers Donna Lopez and Chris DeSocio went on a trip to San Antonio in April 2001 paid for by Benefit Planners, Inc. Raphael also went on that trip, but said she did so after protesting the fact that the company, not the program, was paying for it.
She said there were also numerous dinners and lunches paid for by Benefit Planners and Catalyst RX, both of which have contracts with the state, as well as other gifts, including clothing.
Raphael also charged that program executive staff showed preference to those companies by reducing or not enforcing performance penalties and disregarding problems with the contracts.
In addition, she accused Thorne of making inappropriate comments to her and other workers, foul language, sexual innuendo and other improper behavior. Raphael further accused Thorne and other executives of erasing her computer files, withholding information, and failing to provide a safe workplace. She said she reported the problems to the state employees association, the Department of Investigations, Purchasing, Personnel and the attorney general’s office.
No hearing has yet been held on the allegations.
Thorne could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but said after Monday’s board hearing he had no comment on the details of the allegations.
During the open portion of that personnel hearing, members of the board said the allegations against Thorne were “unsubstantiated,” despite an investigation by the division of investigations that began in March. And several members said they do not see anything that would indicate a need for action against Thorne or his management team.
However, Thorne was ordered to complete and implement an office manual and code of conduct spelling out how staff should conduct themselves personally and professionally in the office and in dealings with outside vendors and contractors. He also agreed to write a letter of apology to his executive staff.
The only dissent was from Board Chairman Terry Johnson, who made it clear he would like to see some stronger action. He warned Thorne, without being specific, to correct the problems that prompted the investigation.