Minnesota state worker investigated for embezzlementby Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
Gov. Tim Pawlenty confirmed Friday that federal authorities are investigating an employee of the Minnesota Department of Human Services in the suspected embezzlement of nearly $1 million. State officials released little information about the case, but key state legislators says they're concerned about the alleged crime and are already planning to hold public hearings on the matter.
St. Paul, Minn. — Officials from the Department of Human Services are not talking about the alleged embezzlement. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office would neither confirm nor deny an investigation was taking place.
Gov Tim Pawlenty offered only a brief comment during a morning radio interview on WCCO.
"I can confirm that there are allegations and there is investigation," he said. "It's very serious. But because of the data privacy rights of the person involved, that's all we're able to say."
State legislators were also providing limited information about the case. Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, said the alleged embezzlement involved money from the Medical Assistance Program, which serves poor children, the disabled and the elderly. The program is funded jointly by the state and federal government.
Berglin heads the Senate committee that oversees state health care funding. She called the alleged embezzlement a huge breach of trust.
"I'm sure many of the other state employees that work in that department feel betrayed, because they're all trying to serve people who obviously need health care services," she said. "And to have a co-worker betray the program in this way is very disturbing."
Berglin said state officials told her that they were concerned the employee involved might have been tipped off by news coverage and would now be difficult to find for arrest.
Berglin said they also told her the alleged embezzlement occurred over several years, and that new accounting controls helped uncover the crime.
"This would not be able to happen today," she said. "It got started before the controls that are in place today were installed, and this hasn't got caught until today."
Medical Assistance is the largest of the state's three publicly funded health care programs. The Department of Human Services Web site says the program provided coverage for a monthly average of 483,000 Minnesotans in fiscal year 2005, at a total cost of $5.2 billion. The federal share was $2.6 billion.
Berglin said the embezzlement will not prevent any program participants from receiving services. Still, she said the Health and Human Services Budget Division will probably hold a hearing sometime in the coming weeks.
Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, chairman of the House Health and Human Services policy committee, said he's also interested in holding a hearing.
"This is one of those items that we need to let the investigation work its way through," he said. "And then our role as public policy makers is really once we understand all the facts and let that process work out, is to come and look and say now that we understand the facts, what can we do to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Thissen says he's talked to Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, chairman of the House Health and Human Services Finance Division, about the possibility of a public hearing as early as next week, but only if more information about the allegations is made public.
- All Things Considered, 09/26/2008, 5:21 p.m.