Officials blame the messenger in theft of state agency’s computers

Following an official document request by the Review-Journal into the theft of 94 computers from a Department of Welfare and Supportive Services warehouse, Nevada Department of Health and Human Services Director Michael Willden has identified the culprit.

It turns out it’s me.

In a letter meant to counter various issues raised by a series of anonymous letters filed by state workers, Willden states that his department has looked into the allegations and found them largely unwarranted. And my use of those letters in recent columns has criticized the department and its managers unfairly, he said.

Willden said department administrator Nancy Ford followed protocol and procedure upon learning of the theft of the computer equipment, immediately notifying the Metropolitan Police Department and the attorney general’s office.

Contrary to the assertions of the anonymous letters, Willden said welfare department deputy administrator of programs and field operations Gary Stagliano “was not and is not responsible for the inventory of computer equipment. Therefore, he would not have been in position to dismiss those losses, as characterized in the anonymous letters.”

From the look of things, nobody was very responsible.

As for another allegation that $20,000 in bus passes was missing, Willden countered that the figure was $9,810. He added that a subsequent search by welfare department employees narrowed the figure to $300.

Check a third time.

Maybe you actually made money on the deal.

Interestingly, Willden also made much of the fact that Ford sent an e-mail inviting welfare personnel to come forward with their complaints. That’s true because I independently obtained a copy of the e-mail.

It was distributed Wednesday — months after the anonymous letters began circulating and even longer since employees named in the letters complained to co-workers about their treatment by department supervisors — but only a day after a critical column was published on the subject.

Shame on me.

Ford writes, “It has come to my attention that various anonymous complaints have been sent to the Governor’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, the Director’s office, various legislators and the media. These complaints are directed toward alleged activities occurring in this Division.”

She briefly outlines the avenues to file an official complaint. She also states, “No type of harassment is tolerated in this Division. I urge anyone who believes he or she has been or is being harassed or discriminated against to file a report with State Personnel, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or the Nevada Equal Rights Commission.”

The Ford letter essentially tells the department’s critics that it’s safe to come out of hiding and lodge their official complaints against, among others, Ford herself.

That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

Nor does this.

In his correspondence to the Review-Journal, Willden criticizes me for not faxing copies of the anonymous letters to Steve George, his public information officer. Had I done so, Willden said, George would have been better equipped to refute the allegations in the letters.

How dare I.

I decided not to fax the letters to George for the simple reason that I knew his department, the attorney general’s office, the governor’s office and at least 15 legislators already had received copies. I also knew through multiple sources that welfare department supervisors working for Willden were trying to develop information that would verify the source of the letters.

Willden in his correspondence argues that his department acted responsibly when the computer theft was discovered and attempted to bring police detectives into the case. Metro declined.


A memo Willden provided said Metro didn’t investigate in part because there were “no signs of forced entry, no logs identifying a specific date of when the pc’s went missing.” According to a welfare division official, whose name was blacked out of the memo, a detective said that if the state department’s own internal inquiry ever “pointed to someone they would take it from there.”

There was no Metro investigation because there wasn’t sufficient record keeping or oversight, and no one in authority was able to nail down specific information. Far from vindicating the welfare and health and human services departments, this makes Willden’s outfit look worse.

The information Willden provided did, however, state that in the wake of the computer thefts the warehouse now stores expensive equipment behind multiple locks.

I guess that’s a start.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at or call 383-0295.

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