8News Investigates: Virginia’s Whistleblower Law

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RICHMOND (WRIC)—When it comes to the
risk of corruption, Virginia is ranked as one of the nation's worst states.

An ABC 8 News investigation
uncovered that many state employees are afraid to report the fraud and waste of
your tax dollars they see—all because they're ineligible for whistleblower
protection and could lose their jobs.

Over the past year, Investigative Reporter A.J. Lagoe
has been contacted by numerous public employees who claim they see fraud and
waste of taxpayer resources in their workplace. They told Lagoe if they
officially reported it, they'd lose their jobs. It turns out, only a small
fraction of state employees are protected by Virginia's whistleblower law, but
that could soon change.

Private contractors paid as much as
$500 an hour for a state-run PR campaign urging Virginians to conserve energy. The
Virginia State Corporation Commission awarded millions upon millions of tax
dollars to well-connected companies—in violation of nearly all the rules and
regulations other state agencies must follow.

“The documents that you've
uncovered, I think, raise some pretty important questions,” Delegate Scott
Surovell told Lagoe, who began questioning this spending last spring at the
behest of SCC employees.

“You've personally witnessed misuse
of taxpayer dollars?” Lagoe asked a state employee, who wished to remain
anonymous.

“Yeah, absolutely—countless times,”
he answered. “I'm concerned about it, but who do I tell?”

Another state employee who agreed to
speak with ABC 8 News on the condition his identity is not revealed says he has
personally witnessed millions of dollars of wasted taxpayer money.

“Why did you and other state
employees reach out to me?” Lagoe asked.

“There were no other avenues
available to us,” he answered.

“There's a fear of losing your job
if you speak up?” Lagoe asked.

“Yes, absolutely,” the employee
answered. “There's not really a place you can turn, and you can get your job
threatened and I've witnessed that.”

ABC 8 News obtained documents
showing that one SCC employee filed a report with Virginia's State Employee
Fraud, Waste, and Abuse Hotline. He asked for protection under the Virginia Fraud
Against Taxpayers Act, or Whistleblower Act, but was denied because the act
only applies to executive branch employees.

Lagoe spoke with an SCC employee,
whose coworker contacted the Fraud, Waste, and Abuse Hotline and asked for
whistleblower protection. That man is no longer with the SCC.

The allegations of fraud and waste
at the SCC were turned over to the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts, but
records show that an auditor spent only a few hours meeting with SCC management
before reaching the conclusion that there was “no basis for any of the
allegations.” However, Lagoe's investigation found questionable illegal
contracts worth millions of dollars and plenty of government waste.

“From my viewpoint, I would question
whether they were valid or not,” said Rich Sliwoski, the director of the
Virginia Department of General Services.

Would-be whistleblowers are aware of
the waste, but have nowhere to turn, because Virginia's whistleblower law
provides them no protection.

Delegate Jim Lemunyon has introduced
a bill that
would provide whistleblower protection to all citizens of the Commonwealth
,
not just state employees.

“If we're serious about the principle
behind the whistleblower statute, it really needs to apply to everyone,”
Lemunyon said. “Especially in the use of state funds, we want all the eyes and
ears open, watching what's going on.”

“I know of countless employees that
would really appreciate that, so that they could feel as though they could
report things,” an anonymous SCC employee said. “They could save taxpayer
dollars and they could not be retaliated against.”

Del. Lemunyon's bill moved through
the House with broad bi-partisan support. The Senate is set to vote on it on
Thursday. If it passes and is then signed by Gov. McAuliffe, if whistleblowers
report waste or fraud and the state is able to recover lost money, whistleblowers
would receive up to 10 percent of the recovered funds.

 

Copyright 2014 by Young
Broadcasting of Richmond

______________________

If you have a story for
Investigative Reporter A.J. Lagoe to look into, email him at AJInvestigates@wric.com,
or find him on Facebook or Twitter (@AJInvestigates).

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