CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Three West Virginia officials on leave amid a dispute over a Department and Health and Human Resources advertising contract conspired to steer that contract to a particular vendor, investigators alleged in securing a search warrant Tuesday for their office, phone and computer records.
But a lawyer for the officials — John Law, Susan Perry and Jennifer Taylor — questioned the degree of detail in the Kanawha Circuit Court warrant document, and predicted all three would be vindicated.
“It seems more in the form of a press release than a search warrant,” said the lawyer, Walt Auvil. “But, we certainly look forward to a full investigation.”
Auvil had recently advised the department that the three planned to file a whistleblower lawsuit over the contract dispute that would also allege defamation, invasion of privacy and Ethics Act violations.
The three were placed on leave in July, just as their department awarded the contract to Ohio-based Fahlgren Mortine. While a one-year contract with a face value of $473,000, it can be extended — and its value can increase — if other agencies wish to join in it to seek similar services from the winning vendor.
Falhgren Mortine barely edged out an in-state firm, the Arnold Agency, in securing the contract despite submitting a more expensive bid. The search warrant request submitted by State Police Cpl. P.T. Kelly alleges the three officials believed that other vendor should have prevailed.
Among other actions, the officials repeatedly tried to second-guess or overrule other department staffers assigned to evaluate and score the bids, which had by submitted by a total of four firms, Kelly alleged.
The dispute arose just as Health and Human Resources Secretary Michael Lewis resigned after requiring surgery for an undisclosed medical condition. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin appointed Rocco Fucillo, a longtime department official and lawyer, to succeed Lewis in late June.
Fucillo has since asked his office’s inspector general to review the contract. The warrant document alleges that at least one of the officials, Law, repeatedly pressed Fucillo about the contract before all three were placed on leave.
The document also quotes from emails between these officials and others in state government, and appears to reflect interviews with these other officials as well. According to the document, Perry and Taylor separately approached Tomblin’s senior aides about the contract. One of those aides, Chief of Staff Rob Alsop, agreed to ask Acting Administration Secretary Ross Taylor for a review, Kelly alleged. Taylor’s duties include state purchasing.
“After looking in to the matter, Secretary Taylor reported back that there were no issues with the procurement process and that the advertising contract should be awarded,” the warrant document said.