CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The state Department of Health and Human Resources isn’t commenting on its next step after an investigation arising from a contract bidding dispute within the agency found signs of policy violations and bad judgment but not criminal intent.
Three top department deputies were reassigned in July after objecting to the handling of a six-figure advertising contract. One, then-Assistant Secretary John Law, was fired last week. The others, Deputy Secretary Susan Perry and general counsel Jennifer Taylor, filed a whistleblower lawsuit in October.
Department spokesman Marsha Dadisman cited that litigation Tuesday as well as personnel policy in declining to comment on Kanawha County prosecutor Mark Plants’ decision not to pursue criminal charges in the matter.
Plants on Monday referred to a report from the department’s inspector general, who investigated the contract dispute and in September obtained a search warrant for the state-issued cellphones, email accounts and office records of Law, Perry and Taylor.
“While there appears to have been violations of internal policy and the exercise of bad judgment, the three employees did not attempt to hide their actions and there is no evidence they intended to commit a crime,” Plants said in a statement.
Plants instead said he was referring the case “to the responsible state authorities to take such administrative sanctions as they deem appropriate.”
Law, Perry and Taylor had raised concerns about how others at the department scored the technical merits of bids from four vendors. That scoring allowed Ohio-based Fahlgren Mortine to win the ad contract with 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 search warrant request alleged that Law, Perry and Taylor conspired to steer the contract toward the lowest bidder, The Arnold Agency, which had won the previous version of the contract. Among other actions, the three repeatedly tried to second-guess or overrule other department staffers while arranging to extend the previous contact for two months amid the scoring dispute, the search warrant request alleged.
Perry and Taylor’s subsequent lawsuit blasted those allegations as defamatory and false. Their lawyer, Walt Auvil, was in trial Tuesday and not immediately available for comment.
“The outcome of the bid itself was not compromised, and the law was ultimately followed in the (awarding) of the contract,” Plants said in his statement.
Dadisman noted that Plants had also found the inspector general’s investigation to be “complete, thorough and independent.”