Thursday, September 24, 2015
An Orange County government employee alleges in a First Amendment lawsuit that county officials punished her for reporting to the FBI what she believed to be instances of welfare and mortgage fraud within the Village of Kiryas Joel.
Nicole Latreille, a Medicaid examiner in the Department of Social Services, charges that county officials docked her a month's pay, moved her to the Valley View Center for Nursing Care and Rehabilitation and passed her over for promotion to special investigator for the social services office. The complaint, filed last week in U.S. District Court in White Plains, indicates the administration learned of Latreille's contact with the FBI in January and began disciplinary proceedings in April. Social Services Commissioner Darcie Miller and Human Resources Commssioner Steve Gross are named as defendants.
Latreille's attorney, Michael Sussman, said Tuesday that the county has given her a "diminished workload," comparing her transfer to New York City's sidelining of teachers in a "rubber room" while they await disciplinary action. He also said that his client discovered "pervasive" acts of fraud, and that the county soon charged some of the very suspects that Latreille had identified as part of a welfare fraud sweep.
"She should have gotten a reward, not been sent to a rubber room," he said.
The complaint says Latreille was accused of acting "outside the scope of her work responsibilities," and suggests she was punished because her investigation "revealed corruption by persons associated with political allies" of County Executive Steve Neuhaus in Kiryas Joel. It notes that the village's voting blocs supported Neuhaus in the 2013 election.
In an emailed statement on Tuesday, county spokesman Justin Rodriguez called the lawsuit "baseless," saying the Neuhaus administration "has prosecuted fraud at levels never seen before" and reports all suspected crimes to the District Attorney's Office, "regardless of location of the residence." He added that Latreille "remains employed in her same title and same salary, working for the Department of Social Services. Only her work location has changed."
District Attorney David Hoovler and Neuhaus announced welfare fraud charges against 30 people on June 30, including two Kiryas Joel residents. They said then that their sweep, combined with two others since they both took office in January 2014, had netted a total of $1 million in fraudulently obtained public benefits, including Medicaid health coverage, food stamps and cash assistance.
In her lawsuit, Latreille is seeking unspecified damages and "an injunction against defendants for their retaliatory conduct."
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