Conservative advocacy groups unveil DHHS video; LePage says worker poorly trained

Gov. Paul LePage's remarks about the video and potential welfare fraud in Maine.

Stay on the latest political news by following Steve Mistler's blog, The Maine Political Pulse

AUGUSTA — In a dramatic press event designed to show that the state's welfare system is vulnerable to fraud, two conservative policy groups unveiled a 45-minute secretly taped video of an interaction between a Department of Health and Human Services worker and a dubious applicant seeking MaineCare.

Associated Press

James O'Keefe

The video, released by Americans for Prosperity and the Maine Heritage Policy Center, shows the DHHS worker trying to help a man with increasingly questionable qualifications obtain benefits.

The man, using an alias, was working under the direction of James O'Keefe, a conservative activist who has led similar undercover stings in attempts to show fraud and malfeasance within welfare agencies, ACORN and Planned Parenthood.

O'Keefe has also hosted a seminar for Americans for Prosperity's RightOnline, a group designed to equip conservative activists with new media tools. His videos have been featured on other AFP state chapter sites, including Ohio's.

AFP and Maine Heritage Policy Center representatives said they had no financial arrangement with O'Keefe.

O'Keefe, responding by email, said he was not compensated, and never has been, by AFP.

The dubious MaineCare applicant did not obtain benefits. While the interaction went on for about 45 minutes, he was ultimately sent away after the initial DHHS caseworker was assisted by a senior eligibility specialist. The specialist told the man that his answers were evasive.

O'Keefe's agent shot the secret video in February. According to Carol Weston, who heads the Maine chapter of AFP, O'Keefe gave the video to her organization last week.

AFP and the policy center showed reporters a 2-minute clip of the video and provided the full-length version on a website. The 2-minute version does not show the caseworker later returning with the senior eligibility specialist.

It's unclear why O'Keefe didn't reveal the video for six months, a move that irked Gov. Paul LePage. Had the video been provided earlier, LePage said, he could have quickly implemented departmental changes to prevent a similar situation.

The conservative groups promoted the video as "explosive evidence" of Maine's vulnerability to welfare fraud.

"Maine taxpayers deserve better than this," Weston said. "They deserve peace of mind that their tax dollars are funding a safety net only for the truly needy, not people who game the system."

Weston and Lance Dutson, the CEO of the policy center, questioned how much of the welfare system's growth in enrollment was attributed to fraud.

LePage, in a press conference that immediately followed the groups' event, said he was troubled by the video. However, the governor focused less on the issue of the system's vulnerability to fraud and more on the DHHS employee's lack of training.

LePage, who took responsibility for the department's lack of "customer service," stressed that the DHHS employee was relatively new to the job. He praised the senior eligibility specialist in the video for asking "the right questions" and turning the man away.

LePage said the frontline DHHS worker should have quickly disqualified the man rather than wasting time before seeking advice.

DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew stressed that the video did not result in fraud and that the employee did the right thing by consulting with a senior employee.

"It's a 2-minute video out of a 45-minute interview," Mayhew said. "There are positives that we also need to focus on. ... We need people to feel comfortable (contacting a supervisor). This individual did."

The 2-minute version shows the man, posing as Ted Ceanneidigh, telling the DHHS worker that he drives a Corvette and has enough money to buy private health insurance. He strongly hints that he is also a drug dealer, provides a business card emblazoned with a marijuana leaf and notes that he deals in metals because it's less traceable.

The worker, who state officials have declined to identify, asks for proof of income to determine whether he qualifies for benefits. The man says he runs strictly a cash business.

"If you don't have proof of income, then you have no income," the worker says.

The policy center and AFP focused on that caseworker's response. Dutson said it showed the worker "assisting in a potentially fraudulent gaming of the system."

Dutson and Weston said the video spoke for itself. Asked why O'Keefe didn't provide the video directly to the administration, Weston said it may have been because O'Keefe knew the conservative groups had championed welfare reform in the past.

On his website, Project Veritas, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, O'Keefe wrote that his work "does not advocate specific resolutions to the issues that are raised through its investigations, nor do we encourage others to do so."

LePage wondered why O'Keefe sat on the video for six months.

"If they had called me back then, believe me, it would have been spread very quickly around the state," he said. "As a matter of fact, I think the video is a great training tool for employees of what not to do."

Democrats and other groups blasted the video, calling it deceptive and divisive. Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, called it a "sting operation without the sting."

"This is a radical group pitting Mainer against Mainer and spreading distrust of government and hatred of public servants," said Alfond, who commended LePage and the administration's measured response.

O'Keefe's work

The Maine video was part of a series conducted by O'Keefe. His Project Veritas shows several other videos attempting to investigate Medicaid fraud.

While O'Keefe's work has been championed by conservative groups, he has also been accused of altering his videos to show a predetermined outcome.

In March, The Blaze, a conservative publication, conducted a thorough analysis of O'Keefe's videos and found differences between edited versions and rough cuts.

The story said O'Keefe deployed "questionable" editing practices to produce a sound bite that would resonate in the media. A subsequent New York Times Magazine piece, written by the author of a recent Rush Limbaugh biography, and a fan of the talk show host, said the edited videos "don't seem out of context."

For example, O'Keefe's famous pimp suit shown in the edited version of his ACORN video in 2009 was not actually worn during the infamous interview.

In another example, the edited video of O'Keefe's meeting with National Public Radio executives in March showed NPR's Ron Schiller blasting conservatives, but the uncut version revealed that O'Keefe left out Schiller's favorable comments about the GOP, including that he hailed from a conservative family and that he was a fiscal conservative. Schiller resigned over the video.

Steve Myers, managing editor of Poynter.org, a website for the Poynter Institute journalism school, recently noted that O'Keefe understands the influence of the soundbite. Myers noted that O'Keefe's edited NPR video has been viewed more than 21 million times, while the full version has about 21,000 views.

MHPC bundled the two-minute version with the longer one on its website. The two-minute version appears first.

Although Weston, with AFP, said O'Keefe presented them with the video last week, O'Keefe said he did not edit the two-minute version.

He said he only posted the full video on his website Thursday morning.

O'Keefe has gotten in legal trouble over his political efforts. He and three others were arrested in 2010 when they entered the New Orleans office of Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., disguised as telephone workers, in an alleged attempt to tamper with the senator's phones. They were initially arrested on felony charges, but the charges were reduced to entering a federal building under false pretenses — a misdemeanor — and O'Keefe pleaded guilty.

smistler@sunjournal.com

Editor's note: The edited version of the video, unveiled Thursday by Americans for Prosperity and the Maine Heritage Policy Center, is the first clip. The complete interview with the caseworker is the video underneath it, and shows that the undercover man was denied welfare benefits after the caseworker asked a senior manager for assistance.

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Comments

 's picture

Epic fail on O'Keefe's part

So he wants to make a video to show welfare fraud, but shows a video that shows that the system is working?!?! I can't believe they proceeded with the press conference. They made themselves look like idiots.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Elegibility

If there is a problem with elegibility rules for receiving assistance that should be looked at but it should be based on need not on somebody's arbitrary moral, or physical fitness criteria. People who receive assistance should have the same opportunity to live foolish and self destructive lives the rest of us enjoy. We do not drug test congress (maybe we should) and they are also living off our tax dollars and we do not cut off their salary because they are having babies outside of marriage. I would also like to see official documentation on how often this happens because I am inclined to believe it is the exception rather than the norm based on what I have observed.

 's picture

I beleieve they really should

I beleieve they really should look into everyone on state help. There are so many people out there that are on the state and they dont need to be! They just dont want to work! I think if we buckled down on them you would see alot of them off the state. Do drug testing(if they are on the state they shouldnt be able to afford drugs, when DHS goes to peoples houses to check things out dont call first!I have a neighbor that has back problems but doesnt seem to hurt him when he has been cutting, chopping,carrying the wood!! They make it to easy to go on the state. But someone that works all their life and gets hurt and needs the help they say too bad you make to much money we cant help you!!

 's picture

We all know this person

This represents the person, often self employed, who doesn't make anything for a pay check, but has all the toys, and doesn't pay income taxes. I'd love for the system to have a method in place to place value on possessions, ie toys, such as the $40k pickup truck that belongs to the business. No different than the guy, out west I believe, who won 2 million in the lottery and was going to continue on public aide because his winnings were not considered income by law.

 's picture

Republican Fraud not welfare fraud

First, he got no benefits. No welfare fraud. DHHS acted responsibly.
Second, How many tapes did O'keefe make. Is this the only tape or one of hundreds. If one of hundreds and this is the only one that could be made to look questionable then DHHS field workers are doing a great job.
Third, O'keefe is not credible. His previous tapes that have been made public have all been proven to be frauds - edited by adding material that did not happen and removing material that did happen.
Fourth, the DHHS employ had been on the job for two weeks. Of course more training is required. How many Boston Red Sox started in the Majors after graduating high school.
Fifth, The two charlies have now been proven to be unprincipled liars. This merely confirms that dishonesty in the Republican Party and its "supporters" is universal.

 's picture

The hard lesson

So, let me this straight he attacked Maine for welfare recipients mostly retirees, disabled, and veterans; yet he is pushing for a replacement for LePage for being to moderate? Awesome job Mr. O' Keefe the system works and he was denied benefits from a more senior administrator.

 's picture

Maine

Maine a welfare state ????? Just look do you see it or hear it does it run down Lisbon st.

 's picture

the real story

 's picture

Project Veritas? That s just

Project Veritas? That s just too funny. Fraud exists in the system, and the video is fraudulant. We have a fraud videotaping fraudulent behavior. Just ask O Keefe to leave and stop the Hoologanism. I can't believe they released this. Mr O Keefe you have already had your fifteen minutes of fame, just get out of here will ya? A newer state employee (or less experienced) who may have misspoken during a confusing interview and did exactly the right thing, and got the supervisor. Good Job.

 's picture

Most new employees are less

Most new employees are less trained then someone that has been at the job for a few years.To me it looks like this person did the right thing by getting a senior eligibility specialist,well trained.
Just the Right trying to spread more propaganda.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Maine humor

For years humorists have portrayed the Maine hick as looking dumb but with a certain down to earth cleverness. Thanks to the Maine Heritage Foundation now we just look dumb. If they were smart enough to hide this for six months why in God's name couldn't they be smart enough to never let it see the light of day. The governor is proclaiming this as a lesson in what not to do. Does that mean he thinks we should be giving actors welfare? A new employee calling her supervisor to advise her on how to proceed with an obviously weird client; how is that shocking? If it isn't a crime to fraudulently apply for benefits it should be. Perhaps the governor could start with that change.

 's picture

The guy was turned down,

The guy was turned down, where's the fraud??? I can see if the guy had bbenn approved for MaineCare, but he was TURNED DOWN!!!! I see no story here.....just more "fraud" being pulled out of thin air by the far right. First it was voters being trucked in by the busload and now this....

 's picture

2 minutes?

All the video really shows is the complete failure of the Lepage administration in its ability to hire and train qualified employees. Oh, and the hilarious buffoonery of the MHPC. Did the clown get away with anything? No. Just making himself look like the jackass he is.

Jason Theriault's picture

Hiring freeze is nothing of the sort

The "Hiring Freeze" has been in place since 2002. It is, for all intents and purposes, non-existent.

I have a few friends who have been hired by the state since then.

 's picture

LePage:

"LePage, who took responsibility for the department's lack of "customer service," stressed that the DHHS employee was relatively new to the job."

Jason Theriault's picture

HE WAS DENIED!

Seriously?!?!? HE WAS DENIED bennies. So, in other words, THE SYSTEM WORKS?

This s*** pisses me off.

Sandra Coulombe's picture

So will there be charges

So will there be charges filed against the man for attempting medicaid fraud? He is not a member of law enforcement so can't claim any legitimate sting operation immunity. He was ultimately denied yet these clowns try to use an edited version to show proof of fraud. The only proof of fraud I see is the individuals attempt to defraud the government. He should be prosecuted for his failed attempt.
I will grant the first worker should be fired for suggesting he just not mention assets and non verifiable income. Personally I think she should have excused herself as soon as he suggested he is a drug runner and called in the police.

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