Whistleblowers Seek Job Protection in N.D. Workers’ Comp Case

November 1, 2007

A workers’ compensation fraud investigator whose testimony helped lead to a felony charge against the agency’s chief executive has asked for job protection, saying he fears he will be fired.

Todd Flanagan is the fourth Workforce Safety and Insurance employee to seek Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s protection since WSI director Sandy Blunt returned to work Monday after a six-month leave of absence.

Blunt worked for the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation before starting his North Dakota job.

Blunt had been facing felony charges of misusing agency funds and conspiring to disclose confidential driver’s license photos from the state Department of Transportation. Prosecutors dropped the last of the charges last week.

Agency spokesman Mark Armstrong declined comment.

Flanagan, in his letter to Stenehjem, said he received immunity from criminal prosecution for providing evidence against Blunt and his immediate boss, Romi Leingang, who is director of WSI’s fraud investigations unit.

Leingang was charged along with Blunt for conspiring to disclose driver’s license photos. Prosecutors also dropped the felony case against her last week.

Flanagan’s letter says that before he talked to criminal investigators, Leingang passed along what she said was a message from Blunt, which he interpreted as an attempt to “intimidate me and get me to change my testimony.”

He said Leingang also told him that Robert Indvik, chairman of WSI’s board of directors, also was “attempting to use his political power to stop the immunity agreement that I was being offered” by prosecutors.

“I have no reason to believe that Ms. Leingang would have been telling me anything but the truth,” the letter says.

Indvik said the suggestion that he attempted to block the immunity agreement was “a bald-faced lie.” He spoke to Leingang at about the time the charge was filed in mid-April, and did not do so again until Wednesday, Indvik said.

“As far as I know, it was completely made up,” Indvik said of Flanagan’s description of his actions.

Three other WSI employees have asked for job protection: James Long, its chief of support services; Billi Peltz, its human resource manager; and Jodi Bjornson, its general counsel. Bjornson supervises the special investigations unit of which Leingang is director.

North Dakota law grants so-called “whistleblower protection” to state agency employees if they provide a written report of any perceived violations of the law or misuse of public resources.

It bars state agency supervisors from firing, demoting, reassigning or reducing the pay of workers who make reports. A worker who deliberately makes a false report may be fired.

In Ohio, a man Blunt formerly supervised, Terrence Gasper, pleaded guilty last year to federal and state corruption charges as part of a scandal in the Ohio agency that shook former Gov. Bob Taft’s administration and was blamed in part for Republicans’ slide from statewide office last November. Blunt has denied any wrongdoing in the Ohio case.

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