Archive for October 20, 2010

Calif. Guard auditor blows whistle on slush fund

By Charles Piller
Sunday, October 10, 2010; A5

SACRAMENTO – Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe was known as “the M&M lady” because she decorated her office cubicle with keepsakes of the confection’s advertising characters. But the treats she handed out to members of the California Army National Guard are now the subject of a criminal investigation.

From 1986 until her retirement last year, Jaffe’s job with the Guard was to give away money – the federally subsidized student-loan repayments and cash bonuses that the Guard is supposed to use to attract recruits and encourage Guard members to reenlist.

Instead, according to a Guard auditor turned federal whistleblower, as much as $100 million has gone to soldiers who didn’t qualify for the incentives, including some who got tens of thousands of dollars more than the program allows.

For years, the auditor and other Guard officials alleged in interviews or internal documents obtained by McClatchy Newspapers, California’s incentives program was operated as a slush fund that was doled out improperly to hundreds of soldiers with fabricated paperwork, scant supervision and little regard for the law.

The Guard documents describe a high-speed assembly line for bonuses and loan repayments, in which Jaffe single-handedly processed about 8,600 payments over a 16-month period in 2007 and 2008 – about 25 per workday.

Most student-loan repayments, the documents show, were drawn from money designated for combat veterans. Yet a large portion of those funds went to Guard members who hadn’t served a day at war. Captains and majors were among those whom auditors think benefited improperly.

A McClatchy Newspapers investigation, including a review of thousands of Guard documents gathered or prepared by auditors and other officials and sworn statements from managers who replaced Jaffe, found evidence that from 2001 until last year Jaffe often provided improper or illegal bonuses and loan payments.

The documents show that her actions were overlooked or ignored by recruiters and officers up the chain of command. Some recruiters appear to have benefited personally. The documents also show that state Guard officials failed to fix the incentives program despite warning signs going back years.

In comments to McClatchy Newspapers laced with profanity and evident bitterness toward former superior officers, Jaffe denied wrongdoing, insisting that she had followed regulations “by the book.”

“They are still trying to blame me for [expletive] I didn’t do,” she said in a phone interview from her home near Sacramento. “I wish I never joined the Guard. I regret it, and I hate the Guard.”

On July 8, the managers who replaced Jaffe briefed Capt. Ronald S. Clark, a federal auditor who oversees funds spent by state Guard organizations, about her alleged lapses. A former police investigator, FBI agent and U.S. Secret Service officer, Clark has fought white-collar crime for years.

Still, he said, the scale and audacity of the corruption he encountered in reviewing the California program shocked him: Excluding $43 million in improper payments recently halted by Jaffe’s replacements, Clark estimated that $100 million was misspent. He called it “war profiteering.”

In late August, after Clark came forward, the Justice Department, the FBI, the IRS and the Army Criminal Investigation Division launched a criminal probe into the California program, in the process taking over Clark’s audit, which was never completed.

– McClatchy Newspapers


Sometimes I think a whistleblower’s search is one for clarity and solid ground.
(I will define whistleblower here as the person working their job who finds law
breaking, unethical behavior or other problem events and actions. Otherwise
known as “fraud, waste and abuse.”)

It is hard sometimes for most of us to reach a state of clarity on just what
happened, what is happening and what will happen when we find ourselves dropped
into this kind of situation. (A little clairvoyance might be helpful in that
last one, but few of us have that talent.)

All the while a whistleblower is trying to sort this out, maintain balance and
keep moving forward, they are being purposefully smacked around either openly,
or behind the scenes by the wrongdoers from the first moment they realize the
whistleblower is on to them, and that the whistleblower is not going to look the
other way, or be intimidated and conveniently shut up. This is enraging for the
wrongdoer, as so many people are possible to frighten or intimidate to the point
of paralysis, that they often begin to see themselves as invincible. The rage
quickly finds its target right on the back of the whistleblower.

If the wrongdoers are ensconced in a system which at the outset affords them any
protection and cover, they will work to create a muddy mess out of the facts,
and try to influence what others are willing to believe is true. If they are
expert sociopaths, this can be quite a formidable challenge to successfully

As the whistleblower works to make things more clear and seek action against the
wrongdoer, the wrongdoer is trying to cloud, confuse, contribute inaccurate
information designed to set up bird walks away from the real issue(s). They
will in all probability try to make the whistleblower the problem instead of
allowing others to see the real problem that the whistleblower was seeking to
expose and the liability of the real culprit.

If the whistleblower also has to deal with direct aggression and bullying from
the wrongdoer and their minions, it can become an emotional gauntlet on par with
other types of abuse cases one might hear about or experience. The wrongdoers
will make their best effort to move the sand right out from the whistleblower’s
feet, shifting the framing of the situation to something more in their own best
interest and trying to maneuver the whistleblower into isolation and to the
point of doubting himself  or herself.

The wrongdoers may also attempt to figuratively cut the whistleblower off at the
knees by attacking them in such a way that they try to take away the
whistleblower’s ethical authority. Wrongdoers may believe that they can
control the situation by attacking the whistleblower’s character, credibility,
dignity, and relationships with others isolating the whistleblower. If they are
successful, it will in many cases either stop the whistleblower from proceeding,
or from being able to sustain the fight for the long haul. And I believe those
on this site know that whistleblower cases are most likely going to be a long
haul struggle before any kind of resolution occurs, good or bad.

Solid ground, which does not transform itself into quicksand the first minute
your attention is drawn away, is hard to find. It is kind of like that old
saying about being foolproof. “Nothing is fool-proof because fools are so
ingenious.” Do not ever underestimate the resolve of the wrongdoers, as many of
them are in so deep, they have nothing to lose (and everything to lose) and will
do whatever they must to continue to stay in the shadows, and continue their
customary mode of operation.

It seems that for the whistleblower, resisting actions that may be hasty forms
of revenge against the wrongdoers, may help to protect a whistleblower. The
necessary fight, which involves both offensive and defensive maneuvers, must be
purposeful and directed. This brings up how important it is for whistleblowers
to have a support group.

I don’t mean that in the hugging, Kumbaya sort of way necessarily, unless that
is the way you like to operate. I mean that you either have someone you work
with that is in the same boat, so you can both paddle or spell each other out as
a tag team, or if that is not possible, having friends or family who can
understand your plight and be able to at least be passively supportive by not
making your stress and anguish even worse.

It is even better if their own training or experiences give them the ability to
be actively supportive. This allows you an empathetic ear and potentially some
help in the defensive and offensive tactics you will need to employ. With their
help it may be a bit easier to create and maintain more solid ground. And if
you start to fall, the rest of your team can prop you up until you regain your

Having said all of that, I must say that so many people do not have advocacy
experience, either through their professional training, or their union
experiences, that many people do not know how to help the whistleblower. It
does not seem to be ingrained in all of us as so many other survival responses
are. Many people are still very unclear about what whistleblowers are all
about. And many people still are negative due to the untruths they’ve been told
about whistleblowers and why they do what they do. I’ve noted labeling of
whistleblowers as “those troublemakers” for instance, or heard about the belief
that whistleblowers are “just opportunists looking for some money.” It seems
many people have never experienced a compelling enough reason to make the hard choice themselves so they do not comprehend the complexity of reasons most whistleblowers have for standing up.

So, we’ve got a substantial challenge in educating the general public about what
whistleblowers are about. I believe it may be analogous to the use and meaning
of the U.S. Constitution. Every year someone goes out and asks people to sign
the Bill of Rights portion, and amazingly in view of the fact it is taught
thoroughly at least two years in a student’s K-12 years, there are people who do
not recognize it, are afraid and will not sign it, thinking it to be some
radical and foreign subversive text.

Think about how some people respond to whistleblowers or those who will stand up to wrongdoing in that light. Make more sense? With the Constitution, the
better informed we all are about what it says, what it means, and what it
contributes to our lives and to posterity, the more effectively we can protect,
nurture and sustain it to a long life. The same can be said for how people respond

to whistleblowers and what creates the current fear filled, negative environment for whistleblowers.