by Mindy Aguon
Guam - Documents filed with the Civil Service Commission in relation to the appeals of seven workers who were fired from the Port Authority of Guam have spelled out some serious allegations of fraud and an alleged cover-up. Port management and their legal counsel believe there is more than enough evidence to justify the terminations of seven employees who all allegedly played a role in a scheme to defraud the government and then cover it up.
It all stems from former Port marketing administrator Bernadette Stern Meno's alleged slip-and-fall in the Port bathroom back in September 2011. While she initially refused medical treatment, some ten months later, Meno claimed that she needed to be seen by an off-island neurosurgeon due to significant pain in her back. But when her travel request and authorization was denied at Adelup and her trip cancelled, Meno claimed she needed medical treatment immediately "to prevent paralysis".
In an October 29 e-mail message to corporate services manager Vivian Leon, safety officer Frank Roberto, then-general manager Mary Torres and board of directors member Shelly Gibson, Meno detailed how she couldn't stand the pain anymore and had been hospitalized. At the time she questioned why her travel and medical condition was being addressed at the board level and claimed political retribution, retaliation and harassment. She asked Gibson to, "Tell Mike Phillips to back the hell off because he has a huge conflict of interest when dealing with me personally". Meno went on to say that she had threatened legal action against a private school for failing to remove an abusive teacher at the school and claimed that Phillips' action on her case "personally are clearly motivated by his need for revenge."
During the investigation the Port offered Meno to see another doctor until the probe was completed, but they allege that she refused. Another doctor had reviewed her file and insisted that the $66,000 in surgery off-island wasn't necessary for what he had deemed a "minor" injury and both the physician and Worker's Compensation Commission said that Meno's refusal to submit to medical examinations could be grounds for denying her claim.
About two weeks later, Meno returned to work until she was terminated.
The Port's legal counsel has accused former corporate services manager Vivian Leon of being "an agent and advocate" of Meno, allegedly facilitating illegal changes in per diem and itinerary. In a report, legal counsel accuses Leon of being "involved at every turn in securing Meno illegal leave, travel and medical care" and allegedly went to "great lengths to engage in covering up what was done."
Leon had drafted an October 17 memo to the controller instructing him to prepare the per diem and travel checks for Meno's off-island trip. The memo specifically included the 300% increase in per diem for Meno and her escort. Two days later, Leon and Torres were informed by another staffer, Miami Ulbernario, that the trip was illegal; but Leon allegedly told Torres that the Port didn't need Worker's Compensation Commission approval to pay for the off-island travel. Leon refutes the allegations, blaming the actions on the safety administrator.
Legal counsel also alleges that Leon took the original file from them, stating, "It was after she had possession of the file that fraudulent documents quickly started appearing." Leon has denied the claim and contends she facilitated the merging of the human resources files with the worker's compensation files to provide to legal counsel.
Additionally Roberto and then-deputy GM Anisia Terlaje allege it was Leon who directed that Meno get the illegal per diem and extended trip to Hawaii and directed HR personnel to make the change. It's alleged that Leon orchestrated the TR&A changes in spite of and receiving instructions from Roberto that Meno only receive $95 a day for ten days.
But Leon denies the statement, saying they are unfounded and defamatory. She contends that Roberto should have been served with action since he has control over the worker's compensation program and claims that he was not terminated because of his political ties to Adelup.
It was during the review of all the documents that legal counsel noticed other documents that they believed had been tampered with.
Former Port planner work coordinator Leonora Leon Guerrero was fired for allegedly altering worker's compensation forms for Meno's alleged work injury. According to the final adverse action, Leon Guerrero admitted to materially altering a form that is only supposed to be filled out by the employee's supervisor.
She's accused of crossing out the box that originally had been marked 'no' indicating that no medical attention had been authorized and writing in that a 101-a had been issued. Leon Guerrero also allegedly added in 'Guam Memorial Hospital' in the space for the treating facility that had previously been left blank and inserting "9-26-11" in the 'date authorized' portion. But management contends that no Worker's Compensation 101-a Form to GMH had ever been issued since Meno immediately refused medical treatment.
Leon Guerrero allegedly admitted to performing all the alterations, changes and inserting incorrect information but could not remember why or when the files had been tampered with. Management went on to claim that Leon Guerrero knew it was crucial to make it appear that Meno had gone to GMH because without doing so she would be ineligible for any worker's compensation benefits. Documents state: "You know that there was a concerted effort to falsify several documents to make the same misrepresentation... you yourself identified a number of areas where others had fraudulently altered and changed official documents."
Former program coordinator Josette Javalosa was also fired for allegedly tampering with documents. She is accused of backdating a memo to Meno's file to represent that the alleged legal leave given to Meno was in the process of being reversed – before - rather than after the alleged fraud was identified.
Records indicate that she initially said the misdating was a mistake, but management alleges she did so as part of a cover up "to hide the fact she and others attempted to secure unlawful work injury leave worth thousands of dollars for Meno", who was her direct supervisor.
According to internal e-mails, on September 21 of last year, Javelosa sent an e-mail with Meno's sick leave form that would have kept her from work until December. Javelosa writes that Meno's time was entered under Workman's Compensation, which provided her uncharged fully paid leave due to an amendment that was included in the Fiscal Year 2012 budget act introduced by Meno's current employer, Senator Rory Respicio.
Later that day Meno replied asking that personnel services administrator Francine Rocio and Roberto change her previous sick leave to Workman's Comp, as well.
It was later discovered that between July 2011 before the alleged slip-and-fall to October 2012 Meno had taken 125 total days off with pay. The majority was annual leave, sick leave and then worker's compensation paid leave. But in November, it was learned that the Port's HR went back and sought to reverse the administrative leave given to Meno because the Port has not received certification from worker's compensation that Meno's injury is job related as mandated by the law. Additionally they noted that once the administrative leave was reversed, Meno would actually owe the Port 68 hours of leave.
Javelosa allegedly eventually admitted to backdating the file when presented with detailed evidence when served with adverse action. Management contends that the backdated memo was "just one of many documents backdated or falsified to cover up a larger scheme to defraud the government of nearly $100,000 in total benefits."
Rocio is accused of having her subordinate, Frances Arriola, backdate a memo to file to say that the safety officer had told Arriola to extend Meno's trip to Hawaii. The information was contained in a sworn affidavit from Port worker Carmelita Nededog, who claims she overheard the two having the discussion last November.
All of the documents are currently in the hands of federal and local law enforcement relative to ongoing investigations.
The Civil Service Commission's board is scheduled to meet this evening to hear motions filed by four of the terminated Port workers - Meno, Guevara, Javelosa and Arriola. The Commission is scheduled to hear the motions of Rocio and Leon on August 1, while a date has not yet been set for Leon Guerrero.