State Officials Uncover `Ghost Employees'

Article excerpt

Officials have uncovered and terminated alleged "ghost employees" at the State Department of Health who collected sometimes sizable paychecks while performing little or no work for the troubled agency.

Acting health Commissioner Jerry Regier announced several terminations and resignations Wednesday in the expansion of an investigation initially sparked by irregularities in nursing home inspections and licensing.

He said that relevant information has been referred to appropriate district attorneys and the U.S. Attorney's Office for possible prosecution.

"I'm turning it over to law enforcement," Regier said. "I'm also implementing policy changes at the department to insure all Department of Health payroll positions are needed, necessary and fully supervised."

Among those fired is Doyle Carper, former deputy commissioner of local health services, who Regier said was the "paper" supervisor over many of those involved. After his termination, Regier said, Carper volunteered information about the phantom workers.

Regier also pointed out that Carper served in his administrative post for the past two and one-half years, and that some of the "ghost" employment appears to precede his tenure.

Also on Wednesday, Regier asked Stephen Edmonds, executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System, to hold in abeyance the processing of retirement benefits for former deputy health Commissioner Roger Pirrong of administration and state vital records registrar, and former Sen. Jim E. Lane, both of whom retired this spring.

Regier said that Pirrong had apparently been ill for a time, but that there are unsettled questions about his previously certified time sheets.

Regier said there are also unresolved issues about the service of Lane, designated as a health facilities consultant from 1990 until May 18 of this year. Officials said that Lane did not turn in any time cards for approximately one year, later submitting records that had to be recalculated.

Apparently, Regier said, Lane was among the department's "80 percenters," full-time employees who are designated to work 32 hours per week, but did not even do that.

Among other individuals terminated were:

* Rebecca Lane of Pittsburg County, the ex-senator's wife, who also allegedly did not turn in time records.

* Former Rep. Gary York, D-Blanchard, who served in the House in the early 1990s;

* Vernon Johnson, of LeFlore County, who allegedly ran a private business while on the department payroll, and

* Frederick Joe Pierce, also of LeFlore County.

The agency has accepted the resignations of Makala Bannister, Oklahoma County, who it is said was a full-time student while employed at the department, and Jon K. Doolen of Atoka County.

Officials say that another former state senator, Buck Dendy, now deceased, was on the payroll from 1979, when he was 76 years old, until his death in 1996 at the age of 92. Dendy, a Democrat from Pryor, served in the state Senate from 1954-1958.

Regier said that salaries for the workers= positions ranged from about $20,000 to $50,000 per year. He said that Lane alone was paid $50,000 each year for about 10 years, and that the final total could reach hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It is critical that these questionable activities be made public, Regier said. When private individuals who are mechanics, farmers or grocery clerks put in a full day's work every day, he added, it is an affront to them that these "ghost employees" be on the state payroll.

Dr. Gordon Deckert, a member of the State Board of Health, said that the board fully supports Regier's efforts.

"It's more than time for us to confront these issues in the state of Oklahoma," Deckert said.

The department continues to conduct employee verifications in all divisions, to determine employees' current job descriptions and assignments, work site or duty station and whether the employee is working the appropriate eight-hour shift. …