News

investigation-2010-04-agstaff

April 19, 2010 | By | Posted in Investigations

Civil Rights Complaint Alleges AG Staff Balked

Corbett’s office denies

Second in a series.

In a federal civil rights suit, a fired former Deputy Attorney General is claiming state Attorney General Tom Corbett and his senior staff may be costing taxpayers millions of dollars each year due to a mismanaged Financial Enforcement Services (FES) section.

When the suit was filed in U.S. Middle District Court in Harrisburg in August, 2008 and the plaintiff, 51-year-old Mechanicsburg resident Thomas D. Kimmet, was fired by Mr. Corbett less than three months later, the Attorney General’s press office brushed off the complainant as that of a disgruntled employee. Twenty months, a-half-dozen depositions and countless interrogatories later, it appears even the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) knows, and knew, there are problems with FES practices and management.

FES is the final state collection agency for taxes, fees and other charges that have not been paid.

Was a promotion promised?

Mr. Kimmet claims he was hired to clean up the mess he alleges may be costing taxpayers millions of dollars per year and was promised a promotion when he was hired. He was a ten year veteran of the Department of Revenue (DOR) before he was hired by the OAG.

The OAG says no promotion was ever promised, that the problems were known and that Mr. Kimmet was a poor manager who did not resolve the issues, according to court records. Mr. Corbett, running for the Republican nomination for governor in the May 18 primary against state Rep. Sam Rohrer of Berks County, said in a March 11 deposition he had no immediate plans to make changes at FES.

The OAG denied some of Mr. Kimmet’s charges in his original complaint that included “…fraudulent payouts for services that were unearned or earned improperly (by private collection agencies)” and that “it is possible that perhaps even millions of dollars, has been, and may continue to be, paid out to preferred vendors.”

The OAG agreed that commissions to private vendors collecting state debts runs from 19 to 29 percent per collection, but deny any favoritism. Mr. Kimmet claims that many debts collected by state agencies were improperly credited to private vendors.

Keeping Quiet

Mr. Kimmet, through his attorney, declined to speak with the Pennsylvania Independent, and the OAG declined to arrange interviews to discuss the case with Mr. Corbett or those named in Mr. Kimmet’s suit, which includes most of Mr. Corbett’s senior staff.

The civil rights suit by Mr. Kimmet contends after he took the job he discovered a multitude of management and accounting problems, but when he attempted to correct them he encountered resistance from his superiors and members of his immediate staff. He claims state university bursars labeled FES “the black hole for collection claims” and his efforts were also discouraged by DOR management. Efforts to move his complaints up the OAG chain of command were thwarted, Mr. Kimmet claims. He said he was told by DOR officials that the problems he was trying address “had been ongoing for years.”

Mr. Kimmet also alleged possible wrongdoing on the part of FES staff and that records were altered but, he charges, “…Tom Corbett and Revenue officials later made an express decision not to formally investigate the illegal misconduct plaintiff uncovered for purely political reasons. They did so to avoid public disclosure of possible criminal misconduct and fraud (or at least the gross malfeasance which was occurring within the Attorney General’s office, all with the awareness and complicity of high officials in the Department of Revenue)”

The state Secretaries of Revenue during Mr. Kimmet’s time at FES were Greg Fajt, who now heads the state Gaming Control Board, and Thomas Wolf of York. Mr. Wolf considered a run for Governor last year as a Democrat, but dropped out and went back to private business. Mr. Wolf was succeeded in 2008 by former state Rep. Stephen Stetler (D-York), who was later indicted by Mr. Corbett in the ongoing “Bonusgate” investigation. Mr. Stetler resigned the post and Mr. Wolf has started a defense fund for Mr. Stetler in York County.

OAG Claims Kimmet Poor Employee

The OAG in addition to denying Mr. Kimmet’s most damaging charges, contends that, “Between July 2007 and June 2008, plaintiff Kimmet’s performance declined sharply. He was aggressive with various subordinates and Department of Revenue personnel. He unreasonably rejected proposed compromises. Most significantly, he failed to discharge his responsibilities on a costly and critical technology project.”

Susan J. Forney, Chief Deputy AG and head of the litigation section, also claims Mr. Kimmet “…repeatedly failed to respond timely to requests for information and business decisions. He resisted attendance at important business meetings. His performance caused delays and threatened the success of the project. In June 2008, he was relieved of the assignment.”

Ms. Forney, on behalf of Mr. Corbett and the other state government defendants, alleges Mr. Kimmett “…filed this action preemptively to deter and avert adverse employment actions based on his performance during the 2007 to 2008 performance period.”

Mr. Kimmet alleges that he and his administrative assistant, Sherry Bellaman, who is a co-plaintiff, were subjected to ostracism, veiled threats and a “hostile workplace environment” as tensions grew in the FES and the OAG. Ms. Bellaman is still employed by the OAG.

The case, which is before U.S. District Judge John Jones, is still in the discovery process, meaning attorneys from each side are still gathering information and taking depositions.

NEXT: Pennsylvania’s Whistleblower Laws

Full deposition of state Attorney General Tom Corbett, given on March 11, 2010 to attorneys Charles Kimmet and Donald Bailey

Be Sociable, Share!

Jim Panyard is a reporter for PA Independent. He can be reached at Jim@PAIndependent.com.

View all posts by »