DSHS whistle-blower says agency ‘did their best to disappear me’
By Eric Nalder: Seattle Times staff reporter Jan. 31, 1999

  Each morning he'd hunt for an empty desk where he could sit at the Department of Social and Health Services office in Lacey.
  He felt like a ghost employee: He had no phone, no computer and no assignments. His file cabinet was a backpack. He had to borrow pencils and paper. It was clear someone wanted him to quit, he said.
  "They did their best to disappear me without killing me," said DSHS administrator William L. Moore.
  Moore had been head of the DSHS welfare office in Chehalis, with 50 people working for him. For more than 20 years he'd gotten high marks from bosses and employees for his work habits and humor.
  Moore said that changed in early 1997, when he sent an e-mail to DSHS Regional Administrator Billie Hartline. Moore wrote that he had "direct knowledge" that Latino Services, a private social-service agency, was providing false documents and Social Security numbers to illegal immigrants.
  Now, Moore is preparing a lawsuit against DSHS, charging that his bosses retaliated against him for complaining about Latino Services. Meanwhile, the state auditor, acting on Moore's whistle-blower complaint, is currently reviewing the Social Security numbers of many Latino Services clients.
  DSHS officials deny that Moore was retaliated against. They said the agency handled his charges properly, and found no wrongdoing by Latino Services. DSHS did sample the Social Security numbers a year-and-a-half after Moore raised the issue, after Moore had filed a whistleblower complaint to the State Auditor's Office.
  "There is an assumption that Bill was pushing on something and we were pushing back," said Carol Felton, director of all DSHS welfare programs. "That's not how I recall it.
  "It was not a retaliatory thing."
  Angela Bartley de Bonilla, executive director of Latino Services, called Moore's allegations "ridiculous. . . . I think he had some prejudices about people who are immigrants, documented or not, getting some help."
  When Moore sent off his e-mail, he became entangled in a controversial issue for DSHS: whether employees should report illegal immigrants to the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service.
  DSHS had a policy against employees making such reports. But in 1996, Congress, as part of welfare reform legislation, prohibited state agencies from telling its employees not to report illegal immigrants.
  In January 1997, Moore called Latino Services to find out why a man referred to the welfare office by that organization had multiple Social Security numbers.
  Since it opened in 1996, Latino Services has received about $131,000 from DSHS to provide maternity care and other health services in four Southwestern Washington counties. Their DSHS contract requires them to help low-income pregnant women, whether they are in the country legally or not.
  Moore said a women employee told him that Latino Services was providing false documents and Social Security numbers to relatives and others associated with the pregnant mothers, so that families could remain together in this country.
  Moore said he told the women he couldn't ignore illegal acts.
  When he got off the phone, he sent an e-mail to Hartline: "I (have) direct knowledge of specific individuals who are in this country illegally and/or have fraudulently obtained identification documents such as SSN."
  He thought the tip would be passed on, perhaps to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. INS officials say they never received the information.
  Several DSHS administrators and employees said that reporting illegal immigrants discourages legal immigrants and foreign-born citizens from seeking help because they'll think they are going to be hassled by immigration officials.
  Felton said she has strong "personal feelings" on the subject. When Moore's e-mail was brought to her attention, she sent an e-mail to Hartline the next day telling him to back off on taking action. "The issue of reporting persons illegally in the country is a particularly sensitive one," she said.
  A week later, Moore got an e-mail from Chuck Wayman, Hartline's deputy, saying: "This is the real political hot potato now."
  Felton and Hartline said if Moore's tip had been about welfare fraud they would have acted immediately. "When the issue was bought to my attention it was about people entering the country illegally. It was not about welfare fraud," Felton said.
  Felton said Moore's reassignment had nothing to do with his repeated e-mails about Latino Services, or her feelings about reporting illegal immigrants.
  Moore disagrees.
  "I was very forgiving at first. It wasn't until later that I started rethink these things," he said.
  He asked for a temporary reassignment, in part because he'd been  wanting a different job even before the Latino Services flap. He was pleased when his boss said he'd be working on welfare reform.
  He arrived at Lacey on April Fool's day in 1997, but no one was there to greet him. Moore said wandered in limbo for two months. On his own initiative, he compiled a  survey for Yakima agencies that aid the needy. Children's Medicaid program director Pat Brown said Moore did a great job but was suddenly yanked off.
  Finally he was given a $54,000-a year job as a deputy welfare administrator in Olympia. But the position was at a lower rank than his previous job and it included an assignment cleaning up mouse nests. His permanent job in Chehalis was given, without his knowledge, to someone else.
  Another former DSHS administrator, Mark Usdane, lost his job after reporting possible financial wrongdoing at Touchstones, a defunct Seattle social-service organization for low-income minorities. When DSHS failed to act, Usdane contacted the state auditor.
  The state Human Rights Commission ruled DSHS had forced Usdane out of his job in retaliation for his whistle blowing.

Seattle Times Reporters David Postman, Tan Vinh and Kim Barker contributed to this report.

Eric Nalder's phone message number is 206-464-2056. His e-mail address is: enalder@seattletimes. com