Do Government Workers feel entitled to steal?
The below re-posted from the Hartford Courant
Attorney Charges Breach Of Privacy In D-SNAP
By CHRISTOPHER KEATING
An attorney for state employees is charging that the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made a "huge breach of privacy'' involving the release of the Social Security numbers of state employees who are under investigation for food stamp fraud.
The names were included on a subpoena and were released to other state employees who are also under investigation for possibly falsifying their finances in order to qualify for emergency food stamp benefits following Tropical Storm Irene. The information was part of a sweeping subpoena for bank account records at Wells Fargo/Wachovia Bank as investigators are trying to determine whether state employees misstated the amount of money they had in the bank at the time.
Instead of a separate subpoena for each individual, the omnibus subpoenas from the Department of Social Services had dozens of names on a single document, said attorney Rich Rochlin, who represents state employees who face possible firing for food stamp fraud. As a result, state employees who are under investigation could not only learn that their fellow employees were under investigation - but could also see the listing of their Social Security number.
"This is amateur hour,'' Rochlin told reporters Tuesday during a news conference at his office. "This is incompetence at the highest levels.''
But Andrew McDonald, the chief legal counsel for Malloy, said that it was Wells Fargo - not the Malloy administration - that released the information.
Citing section 36a-43a of Connecticut state law that deals specifically with subpoenas by the Department of Social Services, McDonald said, "There was no obligation for Wells Fargo to notify the customer. If [Rochlin] has a gripe with anybody, it's with Wells Fargo. They did not have to consult with us.''
McDonald added, "That's not our fault. If Wells Fargo sent that information to other people, we're responsible for that?''
Overall, 130 names appear on the subpoenas, including many state employees. Some of the names appear to be the dependents of state employees, who were named on the D-SNAP applications. One subpoena had about 90 names and another had about 40 names, Rochlin said.
The state law cited by McDonald is as follows:
a) Except as provided in section 36a-44, a financial institution shall disclose financial records pursuant to a lawful subpoena, summons, warrant or court order served upon it if the party seeking the records causes such subpoena, summons, warrant or court order or a certified copy thereof to be served upon the customer whose records are being sought, at least ten days prior to the date on which the records are to be disclosed, provided a court of competent jurisdiction, for good cause, may waive service of such subpoena, summons, warrant or court order, or certified copy thereof, upon such customer. If such subpoena was issued by the Commissioner of Administrative Services or the Commissioner of Social Services pursuant to section 17b-137, 17b-452 or 17b-454, service of such subpoena upon the customer shall not be required.
The final sentence of that subsection shows that Wells Fargo was not obligated to notify the customer, McDonald said.
But Rochlin rejected that interpretation.
"The problem with that is the bank can't pick and choose which part of a subpoena they send to you,'' he said. "It's not the bank's fault. It has no duty to go through it and cherry-pick it. The state should have a separate subpoena for each individual. Your account agreement says that 'if we are subpoenaed to provide your records, we will notify you of that.' They are subject to federal rules that preempt state law.''
The state law cited by McDonald also states:
(c) A financial institution shall disclose financial records pursuant to a certificate, signed by the Commissioner of Administrative Services or the Commissioner of Social Services in accordance with the provisions of section 36a-42, or pursuant to an agreement with the IV-D agency under subsection (c) of section 17b-137.
(d) No such financial institution shall be held civilly or criminally responsible for disclosure of financial records pursuant to a certificate, subpoena, summons, warrant or court order which on its face appears to have been issued upon lawful authority.
A Wells Fargo spokeswoman said that the bank had just heard about the issue Tuesday, and she referred questions to another spokesman. He said he would likely be unable to comment until Wednesday morning.
"I am now in possession of evidence that, in the process of subpoenaing records belonging to D-SNAP applicants, the Malloy administration disclosed the names and Social Security numbers of all D-SNAP recipients who maintain bank accounts at Wells Fargo/Wachovia Bank to each other,'' Rochlin said earlier in a statement Tuesday. "This negligence is indicative of the way in which the D-SNAP program was run from the start. This act also constitutes numerous violations of state and federal laws and regulations as well as a violation of uncharged applicants' Constitutional rights to due process.''
Rochlin added, "This is the exact reason why the D-SNAP investigation needs to be taken away from DSS and placed into the hands of an independent agency or the federal government. The Malloy administration has now proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it is incapable of conducting this investigation in a manner that ensures the due process and privacy of those being investigated. This incident has forced me to call on the Human Services Committee to hold an emergency hearing about the D-SNAP process and the ongoing investigation.''
Rochlin held a news conference at 4 p.m. at his office in Berlin that included reporters patched in on speaker phone.
"As a result, everyone knows who is being investigated,'' Rochlin told reporters. "We are calling upon the Governor's office to immediately pull this investigation from the Department of Social Services. ... How can we expect them to conduct this in a far and honest way?''
Two of Rochlin's clients had hearings last week about possible firings, but they have not heard the official results yet.
"Social Security numbers are private information. That could lead to identity theft,'' Rochlin told reporters. "More importantly, now their privacy has been violated. ... We cannot accept this type of behavior by this administration. It needs to be stopped. ... The governor needs to put an end to this now.''
In another twist, the subpoeana was signed by high-level DSS employee Craig Zimmerman on behalf of Michael Starkowski, who has since been replaced by Commissioner Roderick Bremby. Bremby was selected by Malloy and appeared with him on a Sunday afternoon at the state Capitol when the food stamp fraud investigation was announced.
"How does Craig Zimmerman sign subpoeanas on behalf of commissioners who are no longer there?'' Rochlin asked.
"The state almost always has a separate subpoena for each particular request,'' he said.
Sen. Joseph Markley, the ranking Senate Republican on the human services committee, said the emergency food stamp program has been a problem from the start.
"If DSS was running their programs well, we would not have had these problems with the D-SNAP program,'' Markley told Capitol Watch Tuesday in a telephone interview. "The evidence of the poor management was there because of the lines, because of the confusion. The governor's office has gone into this mystifying mode of dribbling bits of the investigation. ... There's been perhaps an effort to make the story: 'state employees break the law' instead of 'Department mismanages program.' ''
He added, "It raises the question of how programs are being run by DSS. In the end, DSS should not be investigating itself. It was a chaotic program, and now it seems to be a rather chaotic investigation. If it clears itself, it doesn't disperse the cloud as if'' an outside, independent agency conducted it.
He added, "It sounds like a terrible mistake.''
Markley said he will speak to his fellow leaders on the human services committee, including Senate chairman Anthony Musto of Trumbull and Rep. Peter Tercyak of New Britain.
"He's a few degrees to my left ideologically, but we get along,'' Markley said of Tercyak. "We're both true believers in a sense. We're kind of idealists of two different casts.''
Markley laughed out loud upon hearing that Zimmerman had signed the subpoena on behalf of DSS Commissioner Starkowski, a well-known state employee who has long since retired.
"How long ago did Starkowski leave?'' Markley asked rhetorically. "I hope that things are not so bad that DSS has form subpoenas. You would think there would be a little proofreading. Proofreading is a thing of the past.''
Copyright © 2012 The Hartford Courant
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This blogger's beef with the Connecticut State Police, their kangaroo courts, and the state itself: