Days into Donald Trump’s administration, heads are finally beginning to roll at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Two notoriously corrupt employees in Puerto Rico were fired this week, indicating that more may be on the way.
One is the hospital’s CEO, DeWayne Hamlin, who offered an employee $305,000 to quit after she played a role in exposing his drug arrest.
“Mr. DeWayne Hamlin was removed from federal service effective January 20, 2017”–inauguration day–the VA said.
Under former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald, the agency ignored years of evidence about shoddy work ethic, theft and whistleblower retaliation. The VA finally began a months-long investigative proceeding last year, after an outside agency, the Office of Special Counsel, prodded VA leadership.
Even as it knew of the problems, McDonald tapped Hamlin to mold other VA employees in his image, having him serve as a “coach” at the Leaders Shaping Leaders training session in September. McDonald said the training is the number-one way to shape the agency’s culture.
Paperwork reviewed by The Daily Caller News Foundation shows that bosses openly told Rosayma Lopez that she was being fired for refusing to fabricate a reason to fire another employee, Joseph Colon, after he exposed that Hamlin had been arrested at 3 a.m. in Florida on suspicion of drunk driving while in possession of pills for which he had no prescription. Diversion of opiates from VA facilities is a major issue. After ethics officials blocked that firing, he attempted to pay her to quit using $305,000 of taxpayer money, which would have been the largest settlement in recent VA history. She refused the money.
Also in September, Leah Bradley, the VA’s general counsel under McDonald, told Congress that Hamlin’s attempts to get rid of Rosayma Lopez were not retaliation, even though the investigation was ongoing, she did not cite any evidence, and ultimately the evidence apparently concluded otherwise.
The other person fired recently is a woman who took part in an armed robbery, then kept her job while she was in jail, and continued to work in the hospital’s security office while wearing an ankle bracelet.
After TheDCNF broke the story, administrators told Congress it wasn’t true and Elizabeth Rivera Rivera had been fired, before backtracking and claiming that it was impossible to fire employees for off-duty crimes.
Outside lawyers ridiculed this explanation, and spokesmen at the time would not say why she wasn’t simply fired for missing work because she was in jail.
She was suddenly fired Tuesday for misconduct, including being absent without leave and failing to disclose other arrests on her job application, which her background check apparently did not catch.
The hospital has numerous other felons on staff in positions where that background is relevant, and the hospital has simply ignored questions about why. The precedent set this week may suggest that their backgrounds may finally be considered by the VA.
Among them, Tito Santiago Martinez, a human resources official in charge of hiring and disciplining at the facility, is a convicted sex offender who said “there’s no children in [the hospital], so they figure I could not harm anyone here.” The employees union uses his status as leverage to keep rank-and-file employees who run into trouble with the law on the job.
Braxton Linton is a high-level manager in charge of buying prosthetics such as hearing aids, often with government-issued credit cards. He was hired just weeks after release from federal prison for stealing $70,000 using credit card info he lifted from his previous employer. He also been arrested on drug charges while working for the VA, and it is unclear whether he disclosed those arrests to his employer.
Past criminal behavior has been shown to be a predictor of future conduct. In 2011 the hospital also hired a man who had a criminal record for illegal firearms in 2007. Last year he was killed in a shootout suspected to be related to drug dealing. He was carrying his own illegal gun again, but didn’t manage to fire first.
Lopez was only one of several employees who provided evidence that Hamlin had punished them for not covering for his misconduct. Within days of his taking over the hospital, his deputy said he had wrongfully billed taxpayers for moving expenses. He forced the deputy out.
Records also suggest Hamlin was often missing from the hospital.
In December, Sen. Jeff Flake introduced a bill requiring the VA to stop hiring felons, and to fire the ones that already work there. The American Federation of Government Employees union has refused to say publicly whether it opposes the bill.
During the Obama administration, eleven sex offenders listed the Detroit VA hospital alone as their work address; some of them were fugitives wanted by local police, but the VA cited employee privacy.
Rapists and kidnappers also work at nearby hospitals. An Ohio VA employee, Antoine Hall, was convicted of creating pornography depicting a 13-year old in 2014. Hall is wearing a VA badge around his neck in the sex offender registry picture, meaning he was still going to work after being sentenced, and even received a bonus in 2015.
Ralph Wood was convicted of child molesting in 2006 and sentenced to five years in prison, with three years suspended. He was released in 2008 and almost immediately began working at the Indianapolis VA hospital as a clerk. David Allison was convicted of child molesting in 2007 and began working in “medical support assistance” in 2010. His five-year prison term was suspended, but he was likely still on probation.