Poland awaits probe results

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POLAND – Selectmen are asking the state Office of the Attorney General when it expects to finish its six-month investigation into the whereabouts of at least five years of billing records missing from the town rescue department.

In a 4-1 vote Tuesday night, the board decided to contact the AG’s office for an update on the probe that was requested last October. The same vote also asked the town attorney to draft a letter to insurance companies seeking proof of Poland rescue billing records sent anywhere other than the town office.

Town Manager Richard Chick told selectmen Tuesday night that approximately $6,000 has been spent since 2004 trying to track rescue service bills from 1998 to 2002.

The records were discovered missing in October 2004 by fire Chief Willie Rice, who was appointed a year earlier to combine the fire and rescue departments. He began working full time in the position in January 2004.

Rice said his major concern was inconsistent billing for rescue services, including ambulance runs. And, he added, not having the records can be troublesome because insurance companies, lawyers and others often call for copies of them.

Rice advised he didn’t know how much money might be at stake.

Since June 1, 2004, the town has paid Medical Reimbursement Services Inc. to do the billing for rescue calls, according to Chick.

Rice said Wednesday that in October 2004 he asked for copies of billings from the former rescue service bookkeeper, Melody Stevens of Poland, who at that time no longer worked for Poland Fire and Rescue.

Selectman Glenn Peterson said Wednesday that Stevens refused to bring Rice the computer disk that contained the billing information.

That same month, the town hired Mark Filler, a forensic certified public accountant from Filler & Associates in Portland. He asked Stevens to produce the disk, and she gave him a copy of it that showed that nearly 60 files had been erased, Peterson and Rice said Wednesday.

One of the files the accountant retrieved from the disk showed a billing statement for a fixed-wing aircraft, which the town had no prior knowledge of, according to Peterson, Selectwoman Wendy Sanborn and Rice.

“When we called the former bookkeeper to ask her about the erased files, she said, If you contact me again I’ll sue you,'” said Peterson, who was chairman of selectmen at the time.

“We could not figure out why there were deletions on the disk,” Peterson said. “The former bookkeeper should not have been doing her billing out of her private residence” because it’s a violation of federal regulations to protect private health information. “The town administrator has a loose management style; the rescue biller was allowed to do whatever she wanted.”

Chick suggested the computer files of expenses for the aircraft could likely have been miscoded.

“The problem, as I understand it, is when the billing was done, copies weren’t kept,” Chick said. “At the time, that was just the accounting system we had. It was not the best business practice to have. We’ve since gone to a third party.”

But Peterson wasn’t convinced.

“At first, we were led to believe the town was liable for a huge federal fine. It would have cost $25,000 per incident,” he said Wednesday. “Everyone initially was sort of freaked out; it was a low-profile thing. The town administrator was dragging his feet about it. It took him six months to write a letter to each of the insurance companies that the town had had done business with. Once (Chick) finally sent out the letter, he gave the wrong federal ID number for the town.”

The billing came up under “old business” at Tuesday’s meeting. Though Peterson said there is no proof of fraud, both he and Sanborn acknowledged the town’s reluctance to pursue the matter aggressively.

In a letter to Chick dated Oct. 29, 2005, Stevens wrote: “This is to inform you I am aware of the numerous articles in local newspapers regarding past rescue billing problems.’ “Please be advised I have consulted with legal counsel and a suit is being considered.”

Asked about the missing files and the aircraft, Stevens said Wednesday night in a telephone interview from her home, “What they are presenting is something that they have put together. I have no comment because I’m going to be doing something about what’s going on. They will be hearing from me.”

Rice said Wednesday, “My intentions were never to place blame on anyone, but to identify where the bills went.”

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