Former director says FBI investigating Maine CDC

AUGUSTA — The former division director who alleged wrongdoing at the Maine Center for Disease Control said she has spoken to the FBI as a part of a federal investigation into the department.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Sharon Leahy-Lind speaks Friday in Augusta about her former employer, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which she says asked her to take "illegal and unethical" actions.

Sharon Leahy-Lind said Friday in an interview with the Sun Journal that she has "fully cooperated with the FBI" while investigators there look into issues at the CDC. 

A spokesman for the CDC said he was unaware of an FBI investigation. A spokesman for the FBI said he could neither confirm nor deny an agency investigation. He said his agency deals with national security and criminal matters.

In the interview, Leahy-Lind said the state "turned on me" after she reported "illegal and unethical" demands from her supervisors, and she praised lawmakers for digging into the issue.

Leahy-Lind was working as director of the Division of Local Public Health when, she said, her bosses at the Maine CDC ordered her to destroy public documents and then harassed and assaulted her when she refused.

Those documents, she said, showed the scoring results for the 27 Healthy Maine Partnerships at the center of a 2012 controversy over state funding. She said the scoring was manipulated to favor certain organizations over others. Those scores determined which organizations got the biggest shares of more than $4 million in state funding.

Leahy-Lind filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission last spring. That complaint led to an investigation by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability.

OPEGA's report, released in December, found a host of problems with the way the CDC handled funding for the HMPs in 2012. Included in that report: Supervisors ordering the destruction of public documents, funding criteria that was changed during the selection process, funding scores that were changed just before the final selection, documents that were created after the fact in response to Freedom of Access Act requests, a $500,000 tribal contract that seemed to appear out of nowhere and a critical HMP scoring sheet that vanished.

The Legislature's Government Oversight Committee met Friday to discuss that report and consider possible actions.

Leahy-Lind was at the meeting and granted a rare interview during a committee break. She said she "sounded the alarm" to CDC leadership when she was ordered to destroy documents.

"I thought someone would step in," she said. "I thought someone would take action."

But little happened. 

Since filing her complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission and the more recent filing of a lawsuit, Leahy-Lind said she and her lawyer have cooperated with every group looking into issues at the department.

"We've met with DHHS leadership in any investigative process they wanted me involved in," she said. "We've met numerous times with the Attorney General's Office to provide information and to give my perspective. I've fully cooperated with OPEGA and the Legislature's Government Oversight Committee in their work. And I've fully cooperated with the FBI."

She said her decision not to shred documents — an activity she called "illegal and unethical" — has cost her. In July, she resigned her position at the CDC, saying then that she was treated with disdain and disrespect and had been denied basic work tools after her complaints became public.

"The entire state system turned on me. That is disconcerting," she said. "The message I received and that I hope isn't going to be a legacy for state government or public service is if you come forward to report a crime, the system will turn on you and you will lose your job."

Although coming forward has been difficult, she said she has been happy to see lawmakers take OPEGA's report seriously. A number of the concerns raised in that report mirrored Leahy-Lind's allegations. 

"This has been incredibly heartening that people are digging deep," she said. "They're getting the information. Although there are still missing pieces of the puzzle, I think there's a tremendous amount of information that's come forward that's extremely important to the people of Maine." 

Leahy-Lind said she would like to see the state create a nonpartisan ombudsman position for managers so they have a neutral party to go to when they have serious complaints or concerns. Managers, unlike other state workers, are not part of a union and do not have a union representative to help them. 

"There is no established path, so I was pretty much on my own," she said. "I think it's critically important that no public servant be faced with what I was faced with and have nowhere to go with that information after reporting it up the chain of command and getting no response."

Leahy-Lind said she hopes people have "the courage and the fortitude" to follow through on the legislative process.

"And then I hope that Maine CDC can go back to doing their work of protecting the public's health in an honorable way," she said. 

ltice@sunjournal.com

Healthy Maine Partnerships’ FY13 Contracts and Funding

Background on the CDC documentation controversy

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Comments

MICHAEL FOX's picture

Before Lepage

I am sure that this did not happen overnight. It has been going on for years. I bet it was even going on while Baldacci was in there. Maybe before. Hope they get to the bottom of it, no matter who is to blame

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Crystal Ball is your projections or just

a WAG..".I am sure that this did not happen overnight." "It has been going on for years."

Mike,don't you think they would not have the FBI on this had it been done in the past because you would of had Repub/Tbaggers all over it also, if Baldacci or any other person had done so....

This is new in every manner of past business...

AL PELLETIER's picture

So much for the CDC

Now on to Lepage,Mayhew and Alexander.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

I have a feeling.........

I have a feeling that before all is said and done, we will find, there is a much larger coverup going on. I doubt the department heads at the CDC came up with this little reallocation idea on there own, why would they? I wouldn't be surprised to see other state departments with similar, shall we say, very unorthodox accounting methods. Especially when it comes to the disbursement of State revenue. These things are rarely the result of a particular department head trying to improve their departments productivity. These are most likely the result of an administration wide directive to make certain that funds are going to the right people. I mean how else can you explain the "tribal grant"? Oh, I'm pretty sure we'll be hearing more about this new method of record shredding// I mean keeping. I'm also pretty sure our illustrious Governor will be in this up to his eye balls. Stay tuned, this is getting good.................

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

The wheels of justice

are in motion. I totally agree there is more to this than meets the eye. It all came from the top for all this to be put in motion and when the hammer comes down hard...LePage is getting nailed, in one hard blow, his coffin will be sealed.

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