Fraud hotline has ID snag

CARSON CITY — A new telephone hotline established by the state of Nevada to receive reports of fraud, waste and abuse will protect a caller’s identity but anonymity is not guaranteed if a concern becomes a criminal investigation.

Steve Weinberger, administrator of the state Division of Internal Audits, which oversees the new fraud hotline, said people can leave anonymous complaints, although such a report would need to be detailed enough to allow the agency to move forward with an investigation.

Those who leave their names will be guaranteed anonymity by the division, he said.

But Weinberger acknowledged that if a matter becomes a criminal case investigated by the attorney general’s office, a person’s identity could eventually become public.

The fear is if that occurs, administrators and fellow employees could seek retribution against the whistle-blower, which could include demotion, harassment or even firing.

So far state employee groups have been mum on the new hot-line and whether workers are likely to use it. A spokeswoman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO Local 4041, which represents state workers, plans to comment this week.

But Assemblyman Andrew Martin, D-Las Vegas, who sought legislation to establish the hotline, said it would be rare for a person’s identity to be revealed even if a tip proceeded to a criminal matter.

There are protections in state law for state employees or officers who report to the attorney general’s Public Integrity Unit potential crimes committed by state employees and officials in the course of their duties.

Nevada’s “whistle-blower” statutes say that the public policy of the state is to encourage employees to disclose improper government actions when such disclosures are not prohibited by law, and that it is the intent of the Legislature to protect employees or officers who do so.

Law given high rating

At least one national group rates Nevada’s whistle-blower law very highly, placing it in a tie for fourth strongest among all states. The group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility released its rankings earlier this month and noted that Nevada in the 2013 legislative session improved the law, including lengthening the statute of limitations for bringing civil actions based on retaliation.

But efforts by employees to use the law don’t always succeed.

James Richardson, a pilot with the state Department of Transportation who was fired in 2008 for allowing the engine on the state’s Cessna Citation to “over-speed,” won his case when the Nevada Supreme Court said he could be demoted but not fired for the infraction.

The personnel action came after Richardson claimed a fellow pilot violated safety rules, including letting his teenage son fly a state plane.

Richardson was never offered a new flying job by the state, however, and in 2012 he sued for $250,000 in back pay. The case is pending.

“Basically NDOT has ruined me,” Richardson said.

HOTLINE GETS SOME CALLS

The new state fraud hotline telephone number, 775-687-0150, allows a caller to leave a voice mail message. A website link is expected to be added soon.

The hotline is primarily directed at state employees, although the public can call if the concern involves a state agency or its use of public money. Public money includes state and federal funds. Contractors and vendors are included in the fraud reporting outreach effort.

Weinberger said the hotline has received eight messages since becoming active, although none of the calls have generated any evidence of major concerns within state government.

The concerns identified in the calls did not relate to the mission of the program, which is to investigate instances of embezzlement, fraud or related activity, he said.

“One call was a concern about the food served at a juvenile detention facility,” Weinberger said.

The calls were referred to other agencies.

State Controller Kim Wallin said she plans to keep a fraud reporting link on her website active because it is another option for state employees who might not feel comfortable reporting to an agency that ultimately reports to the governor.

The controller is a constitutional office separate and distinct from the governor’s office.

That complaint telephone number, 775-684-5632, and website form have generated a few concerns, but they have primarily been resolved by other agencies and were not related to fraud or waste, she said.

One issue that came to her office was about whether a mentally disabled worker was being paid appropriately by a business. The Department of Labor investigated, found out the employee was not being paid correctly, and the issue was resolved, Wallin said.

Another inquiry was from an individual who questioned whether a neighbor had properly received disaster recovery funds. Wallin investigated and found that the payment was legitimate.

HOTLINE’S INTENT

The hotline was mandated by Assembly Bill 327 from the 2013 legislative session.

The bill as originally written would have moved the Division of Internal Audits to the controller’s office but that section was deleted in the bill’s final form. Martin said in his testimony that having the division under the governor’s control could compromise its independence.

Flyers with the hotline number are being conspicuously posted in each public building, but they make no reference to confidentiality. The voice mail message does talk about the issue, however.

Martin’s proposed flyer clearly stated that reporting would be confidential, and included language that said “We will protect you.”

“Prosecutors do not ‘out’ people,” Martin said Thursday. “It would be my expectation that only when a matter comes to indictment or trial, would the identity or testimony of a key witness be possibly revealed.”

Martin said that as a member of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners he believes strongly in protecting taxpayer money.

“I was very pleased to see this bill pass with no opposition,” he said. “Even showing the commitment to fighting fraud will help to deter it.”

FLYERS URGE VIGILANCE

The new flyers ask employees to be vigilant for fraud, waste and abuse by watching for colleagues who don’t report leave time, engage in excessive travel or who circumvent established procedures.

“The State of Nevada will not tolerate fraud, waste or abuse of state and federal funds,” states the policy directive from the state Department of Administration.

Fraud investigations already occur within the state. The attorney general’s office, for example, has a Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, and other state agencies also look for abuses in the program.

The attorney general’s office recovered $5.7 million in Medicaid funds in 2010, and $5.5 million in 2009, the most recent numbers available.

But it is hard to get a handle on the amount of fraud or abuse that might be occurring within Nevada state government. Both the Division of Internal Audits and the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s Audit Division review state agencies looking for such concerns.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.

ad-high_impact_4
News
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss React to Dennis Hof's Death
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss speak about their friend and prominent brothel owner Dennis Hof's death at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof has died
Nevada brothel owner and Republican candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 36, Dennis Hof has died. He was 72. Nye County Sherriff's office confirmed. Hof owned Dennis Hof's Love Ranch brothel, located in Crystal, Nevada.
Las Vegas police investigate suspicious package at shopping center
Las Vegas police evacuated a southeast valley shopping center at Flamingo and Sandhill roads early Tuesday morning while they investigated reports of a suspicious package. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance blood drive on October 1
A blood drive was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on the one year anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance Lights memorial unveiled at St. Rose hospital
A dedication ceremony was held at St. Rose to unveil a memorial and to read the names of those who died on October 1, a year ago. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive Remembrance Wall
(Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive
Vitalent hosts a blood drive at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, the first anniversary of the Las Vegas shootings. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October sunrise remembrance ceremony in Las Vegas
Myanda Smith, sister of Las Vegas shooting victim Neysa Tonks, speaks at the sunrise remembrance ceremony at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Chitose Suzuki/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
‪Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to crowd at Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬
‪Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to the crowd at the Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Father of Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim talks about college scholarship in his daughter's memory
Chris Davis, father of a Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim, Neysa Tonks, talks about a college scholarship in his daughter's memory to assist the children of those who died in the shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Oct. 1 survivor Malinda Baldridge talks about life after the shooting
Malinda Baldridge of Reno attended the Route 91 Harvest festival with her daughter, Breanna, 17, and was shot twice in the leg when the gunman fired on the crowd.
Route 91 survivor talks about lack of progress in gun legislation
Heather Gooze, a Route 91 survivor, talks about lack of progress in gun legislation since the Oct 1. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas/Review-Journal) @reviewjournal
Review held in death of man after encounter with Las Vegas police
The mother of Tashii Brown, who died after an encounter with Las Vegas police on the Strip, not satisfied after public review of evidence. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County Museum opening "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials"
The Clark County Museum is opening an exhibit "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials" of items left to honor the victims killed in the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Memorial service for former RJ lawyer Mark Hinueber
Mark Hinueber, the Review-Journal's former lawyer and defender of the First Amendment, died in Las Vegas on Aug. 23. Hinueber, who was 66, worked at the RJ and other newspapers for 42 years. On Saturday, his friends and family gathered for a memorial service.
Army veteran honored in Henderson event
Army Sgt. Adam Poppenhouse was honored by fellow veterans in an event hosted by a One Hero at a Time at the Henderson Events Center.
Michelle Obama and Keegan-Michael Key urge Nevadans to vote
Former first lady Michelle Obama and comedian Keegan-Michael Key urged Nevadans to vote at Chaparral High School in Las Vegas Sunday, Sep. 23, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
1 dead, 1 wounded in North Las Vegas standoff
A woman was hospitalized with serious injuries on Thursday morning after being shot inside a North Las Vegas house. Police responded about 11 p.m. to a shooting at a home on the 5600 block of Tropic Breeze Street, near Ann Road and Bruce Street. The wounded woman, police believe, was shot by a man, who later barricaded himself inside the house. SWAT was called to assist, and when officers entered the house, they discovered the man dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Las Vegas Teen Makes Clothing Resale His Side Hustle
Las Vegas resident Reanu Elises, 18, started buying and selling streetwear online when he was a high school junior. Like many other young adults, the world of online resale applications like Depop and Mercari have made selling clothing online for a profit easy. Now, Elises spends his free time at thrift shops looking for rare and vintage clothing he can list on his on his shop. Now in his freshman year at UNLV as a business marketing major, Elises hopes to open a shop of his own one day and start his own clothing brand. He estimates that he's made about $1000 from just thrifted finds in the past year, which he'll use to buy more thrift clothing and help pay for expenses in college. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Fruition Vineyards Encourages Young Entrepreneurs to "Buy, Flip, Dream"
Once a month, young adults gather at Fruition Vineyards on South Maryland Parkway near UNLV to dig through a stack of rare, vintage and designer clothing that's marked down well below it's resale value. Shop founder Valerie Julian began the vent, dubbed "Fruition Vineyards" in August after running her streetwear shop since 2005. The event gives young entrepreneurs the opportunity to "buy, flip, dream" according to Jean. Meaning that they're encouraged to buy the clothing for sale and find a way to resell it for a profit, then reinvest that into whatever dream they pursue: college, a hobby or their own resale business. Shoppers lined up starting an hour before noon on the last Saturday in April for the opportunity and spoke about what they hoped to do with their finds and profits. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Local man goes under cover searching for answers to homelessness
Licensed mental health therapist Sheldon Jacobs spent 48 hours under cover posing as a homeless man in an attempt to gain perspective on the complex issue.
Social Work UNLV Lecturer's Calling
Ivet Aldaba-Valera was the first person in her family to graduate from both high school and college. The 33-year-old UNLV lecturer is now pursuing her Ph. D in public policy at the school and has used her degree in social work to engage with the young Latino and Latina community of Las Vegas. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Gold Point townsperson talks about why he choose to live in a ghost town
Gold Point townsperson Walt Kremin talks about the ghost town in Nevada he calls home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
ad-infeed_1
ads_infeed_2
Local Spotlight
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like