I am still being subjected to retaliation and retribution by the county, and I’m tired of it. OMIG says they can’t do anything about it, so I start talking to legislators. Sam Laguzza says he will have a hearing—or at least a committee meeting—and I will be allowed to speak, but old Sam is tight with David Sutkowy and the way this probably went down was that Sutkowy told Laguzza that he wouldn’t come to the meeting if I was at the table, so I didn’t get to sit at the table.
I was, however, in the room and did force my way into the conversation, including making the statement that Zachary Karmen and David Sutkowy have subjected me to repeated acts of retaliation and retribution. And at that, there was laughter amongst the county officials who were present. The laughter was led by Ann Rooney, who is David Sutkowy’s boss and County Executive Joanie Mahoney’s right-hand woman.
When I told that story to First Deputy Bob Hussar in the Inspector Generals Office, he made me repeat it. He did not believe that a citizen’s allegation of harassment by government officials could be met with laughter from the county executive’s people. He lives in the world outside of Onondaga County: the values are different there. The citizen is to be served, not abused; the citizen is to be heard, not laughed at.
At the legislative committee meeting, I heard that Syracuse University’s world-renowned Maxwell School of Public Administration had agreed to do a study of Medicaid transportation in Onondaga County, so I wheeled myself up to S.U. and met with the professor leading the study—and it turned out he was a familiar of Zachary Karmen. Among other things, their daughters were close friends and were at college together. It was Karmen who had reached out to him to do the study.
And nobody at the county saw fit to tell the graduate students doing the study that Medical Answering Services was under investigation by the state. Well, nobody but me. The students said that they were interviewing all the stakeholders but when it came to interviewing OMIG, they said they didn’t have time. Or, maybe, just possibly, they asked their professor if they should, and he talked to Karmen, and he said they shouldn’t. I don’t know, but if you were doing a study on the jelly bean factory and found out that it was under investigation by the Food and Drug Administration, wouldn’t you want to interview somebody at the FDA? I sure would, but I’m not a 25-year-old student working for a professor.
By now I have made a lot of noise about MAS, their no-bid contract, their substandard service, and the investigation—and not one word of it has been reported in the newspaper, The Syracuse Newspapers now being reduced to the single Post-Standard, possibly because they have consistently failed to report the news that matters to the people. I have put the story before various city editors and reporters but they have not reported it. John Mariani, government reporter, has sat in the Legislature and committee meetings and listened to my charges and government officials evasions but has not reported it. Stan Linhorst, managing editor, has stated that they will not be covering the story. The Post-Standard eagerly front-pages every report of a Medicaid recipient who is arrested for fraud. When the fraudulent party is the government, the Post-Standard will not report it.
Wayne Freeman and Russell Maxwell got their start in Onondaga County with Kathy Hart and Zachary Karmen in the Dept. of Social Services. Things went so well that they moved into Monroe County (Rochester). They took Able Medical, with its propensity for bribery, with them, and got the contract. Then they went on to bid in other counties. By 2009 Medical Answering Services had an 8½-by-14 inch full-color brochure, and contracts in nine counties. I contacted a Rochester newspaper and a reporter started to investigate MAS.
The Office of the Medicaid Inspector General finished their investigation in November 2007 but hasn’t produced a final disposition as of November 2009. At high levels of OMIG, the decision was that Freeman, et al, should be forever denied Medicaid money. This would effectively put them out of business. However, at the highest level, the decision was that MAS should stay in business. This apparently was because the state’s perception was that MAS provided a vital service in rural counties where no one would step in to provide service if MAS was put out of business. I did not agree, nevertheless, what OMIG was working on was a Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA). A CIA would effectively take control of MAS without putting it out of business. Bob Hussar was soliciting my input as to what should go into the CIA. I had quite a list for him.
I had interviewed representatives of the Syracuse hospitals who said, succinctly, that “Medicaid transportation sucks.” There weren’t enough vehicles on the road and they took too long to come. Patients were taking up $1000/day beds because they couldn’t get a medical van to move them out. I reported this to legislators. Sam Laguzza started making unannounced visits to vendors to educate himself. I was continually pushing for the county to issue an RFP (Request for Proposal) and get the dispatch contract put out for proper bid.
A whistleblower is a person who reports improper government activity. I figured I qualified, so I went to the Onondaga County web site and looked around for a while and finally discovered that in 2009 County Executive Joanne Mahoney signed a directive protecting whistleblowers. If you were hunting for the whistleblower protection policy, where would you look? Probably on the County Executive’s home page, but you wouldn’t find it there. To find it, go to Office of the County Comptroller and click on Selected Correspondence. Seriously, public notice of the county executive’s policy is buried in the comptroller’s correspondence file. Comptroller Robert Antonacci—not Joanie Mahoney—issued a press release that he was the go-to guy, so I went to him and told him all the problems with Zachary Karmen. Antonacci did nothing. (To be continued)