Fourth WSI worker seeks whistle-blower protection
BISMARCK -- A fourth Workforce Safety and Insurance employee has sought whistle-blower protection from Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. In a memo released Thursday, WSI Special Investigator Todd Flanagan says he fears retaliation - such as termi...
BISMARCK -- A fourth Workforce Safety and Insurance employee has sought whistle-blower protection from Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.
In a memo released Thursday, WSI Special Investigator Todd Flanagan says he fears retaliation - such as termination - for cooperating with an investigation earlier this year that resulted in charges against his supervisor, Romi Leingang, and WSI Executive Director Charles "Sandy" Blunt.
"It is because of my cooperation and the attempts to tamper with me as a witness that I plead with you to provide some type of protection for me," he wrote.
He also wrote that Leingang told him "the chairman of the board, Robert Indvik, was attempting to use his political power to stop the immunity agreement that I was being offered by (prosecutors) and approved by your office."
Indvik said Thursday that the charge "is a bald-faced lie" and he is demanding Flanagan retract the statement.
"And if there is no retraction, I'll be seeking a defamation lawsuit against Mr. Flanagan," he said.
Flanagan works in the fraud unit at the WSI, and Leingang is director of the unit. WSI is the state's workers' compensation agency.
WSI spokesman Mark Armstrong said the agency would have no comment on Flanagan's or other employees' protection requests.
On Friday, WSI Chief of Support Services Jim Long, General Counsel Jodi Bjornson and Human Resources Manager Billi Peltz asked Stenehjem for whistle-blower protection. Stenehjem's chief deputy, Tom Trenbeathpp, has acknowledged the requests via e-mail.
Flanagan says Leingang told him what Blunt wanted him to say in a deposition with prosecutors before charges were filed in April, and that he defied the instructions.
Leingang and Blunt were cleared of charges Friday and returned to work Monday. They had been on paid leave while the case was pending.
Prosecutors alleged Leingang and Blunt conspired to violate state law last year when Leingang downloaded Transportation Department drivers' license images as part of an attempt to find who had sent an anonymous e-mail to WSI employees. The images are confidential and could not be used for that purpose, prosecutors said.
Flanagan writes in his request, "I cooperated fully with the investigator and (prosecutors). ...The information that I provided appears to have been significant in the decision to proceed with charges."
During Blunt and Leingang's preliminary hearing in August, a Highway Patrol trooper testified that Flanagan warned Leingang several times that their investigation of the e-mail was improper.
Flanagan wrote to Stenehjem that before he was deposed on April 9, "Leingang came to me...(and) informed me that Mr. Blunt was aware of my immunity agreement...and he wanted both her and I to know that 'as long as we say he only provided one name (to be put on the photo line-up of possible suspects in the investigation) that everything would be OK.'"
Flanagan told Leingang he would not say Blunt provided only one name "because it was not true." Flanagan said he believed Blunt's instruction was as an attempt to intimidate him into changing his planned testimony.
In other WSI action, the agency's board of directors announced Thursday that it "stands behind and fully supports Bjornson."
Bjornson's request for whistleblower protection said she feared the assistant Burleigh County state's attorney's public statements and motion to dismiss the charges implied Bjornson had altered her testimony. The board wrote that it believes she was truthful and fully cooperative throughout the investigation.
Janell Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Dickinson Press.