CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Two lawyers for the state Department of Health and Human Resources lawyers filed whistleblower lawsuits Tuesday alleging Secretary Rocco Fucillo wrongly placed them on leave after they raised questions about the scoring of bids for a six-figure advertising contract.
Deputy Secretary Susan Perry and department general counsel Jennifer Taylor also target the department and its administrative and purchasing deputies in their separate Kanawha Circuit Court filings.
The lawsuits claim the defendants retaliated against Taylor and Perry over the contract dispute and allowed the release of a search warrant last month that sought their state-issued cell phones, email accounts and office records. The release was meant to cast Perry and Taylor in a false light, by making it appear they had committed a crime, their lawsuits say.
The warrant request, filed on behalf of the department’s inspector general office, accuses Perry, Taylor and department Assistant Secretary John Law of trying to steer the contract to a particular firm. The warrant filing also claims that the three wrongly sought to second-guess the bid scoring performed by a three-person department committee assigned that task.
Law was placed on administrative leave along with Perry and Taylor in July and is represented by their lawyer, Walt Auvil of Parkersburg, but is not taking part in the court action.
Fucillo’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. The lawsuits also allege gender discrimination, invasion of privacy and state ethics violations while seeking damages to compensate Perry and Taylor.
Ohio-based Fahlgren Mortine was awarded the contract in July on a $473,000 bid, the highest among the four filed. While signed for one year, the contract can be extended and its value can increase if other agencies piggy-back on the services it provides.
The lawsuits focus on the scores that the four firms received for the technical merits of their bid proposals. Law first raised concerns about the technical bids, particularly regarding public health research, after learning about them from a subordinate who sat on the bid review committee, the lawsuits said.
Law shared his concerns with Perry, who asked Taylor to review the bids, the lawsuits said. Taylor compiled a detailed spreadsheet that compared the various components of the bids and the scores they received, and the lawsuit alleges this scrutiny highlighted problems with the scoring
Taylor would later describe the technical scoring as “a poster child for arbitrary and capricious,” her lawsuit said.
The lawsuits cite repeated criticisms of the department’s handling of other contract bidding, An August legislative audit, for instance, recommended a repeal of the law that allows the department to pursue contracts in-house instead of through the state Division of Purchasing.
Taylor reported her findings to Perry, who then sought to alert Bryan Rosen, the department’s purchasing director, and administrative Deputy Secretary Warren Keefer. Rosen and Keefer, co-defendants in the lawsuits, allegedly refused to consider her concerns.
During this time, department then-Secretary Michael Lewis resigned after requiring surgery for an undisclosed medical condition. The plaintiffs then turned to aides to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. The lawsuits allege that Tomblin Deputy Chief of Staff Erica Mani ultimately told Taylor that the governor’s office did not want to tell the department what to do, and that the state Division of Purchasing had reviewed and approved the bid scoring. But Mani also said that Purchasing Director David Tincher was willing to meet to discuss the concerns, according to the lawsuits.
That meeting never happened. Tomblin had appointed Rocco Fucillo, a longtime department official and lawyer, to succeed Lewis in late June. After Perry and Taylor approached Fucillo about meeting with Tincher, he placed them on leave, the lawsuits allege.
The lawsuits said Fucillo “barred them from and locked them out of their offices and had them escorted by security through the office of (the department) and to their vehicles in full view of their co-workers and other (department) employees.”