DSHS whistle-blower says agency ‘did their
best to disappear me’
By Eric Nalder: Seattle Times staff
reporter Jan. 31,
Each morning he'd hunt for an empty desk
where he could sit at the Department of Social and Health Services office in
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.
their best to disappear me without killing me," said DSHS administrator William
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.
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 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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
"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
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
The state Human Rights Commission ruled DSHS had
forced Usdane out of his job in retaliation for his whistle
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