Nine more state employees face hearings in Irene fraud

The administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Monday it has identified nine more state employees suspected of fraudulently obtaining disaster relief after Tropical Storm Irene, bringing to 24 the number of employees now facing disciplinary hearings and possible criminal investigations.

Four employees suspected of fraud are state troopers, include one trooper who was assigned to provide security at a Department of Social Services office in Norwich that was inundated with applicants for the disaster aid, according to a report Monday in The Hartford Courant.

Sgt. Andrew Matthews, the president of the Connecticut State Police Union, said late Monday afternoon that he is aware of two troopers who obtained the storm aid and are now under investigation.

“We can confirm that two of our members are parties to the investigation,” he said. “We’ve been asking our member and public and administration to reserve judgment and allow due process.”

By referring nine more employees to their state agency heads, the Malloy administration was initiating disciplinary hearings, the first step in terminating an employee. The first 15 employees have been notified they are facing hearings.

“We have a zero tolerance policy for the misuse or abuse of government programs in this administration,” Malloy said Monday. “While the addition of nine administrative hearings is troubling, I want the residents of Connecticut to know that this is an ongoing investigation, and I am determined to leave no stone unturned.

“In addition to losing their jobs, anyone caught defrauding our government will be referred immediately to the proper authorities. The days of looking the other way are over.”

Most of the employees who initially came under suspicion are high wage earners, whose incomes exceeded the limits for recipients of the Irene relief, which was provided through the federally funded Disaster-Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or D-SNAP.

The trooper who provided security at the DSS office, for example, made $124,435 last year, including overtime. It is possible, however, for a high wage-earner to qualify for D-SNAP, because eligibility is based on household size and income during a 30-day period after the storm.

Eligible households were to receive food aid ranging from $200 for a single adult to $1,202 for a family of eight. Applicants had to identify uninsured disaster losses incurred from Aug. 27 to Sept. 25.

The maximum monthly “take-home income and liquid assets” an applicant could have for the covered 30-day period was $2,186 for a single adult, $2,847 for a household of two, $3,272 for three, $3,859 for four, $4,245 for five, $4,753 for six, $5,116 for seven and $5,479 for eight.

Matthews said every recipient of the aid should be examined, not just the 800 state employees who obtained the aid.

But the governor last week said state employees are held to a higher standard, and his administration’s inquiry is properly focused on them.

“Let me be very clear. Right now, I know what I am concentrating on,” Malloy said. “We’re concentrating on state employees, because it’s not only having broken the law, but it’s this violation of the trust.”

On Monday, Malloy repeated last week’s call for anyone aware of fraud to contact authorities.

“Since we first announced the administration’s investigation into the federal emergency food assistance program last week, my office has been contacted by state employees who want to report unethical practices but wish to do so anonymously,” Malloy said.

The identities of whistleblowers will be protected, he said.

“The Office of the Auditors of Public Accounts, which is operated under the management of the state legislature, has a whistleblower unit designed to protect the identities of anyone who makes such a report,” Malloy said. “I strongly urge any Connecticut resident who is aware of misuse or misappropriation of public funds and wants to remain anonymous to contact that office, understanding that their identities will be protected.”

The auditors can be reached at 800-797-1702 or 860-240-5305, he said. Information on the rights of whistleblowers or how to file a report can be found on the website of the attorney general’s office.