Four state employees have been fired and four others have retired in the ongoing food stamp scandal.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made the announcement Tuesday regarding the controversy over state employees who allegedly falsified their financial status in order to qualify for emergency food stamps following Tropical Storm Irene.
So far, 98 state employees have been referred to their departmental supervisors for disciplinary hearings and possible firing. The eight employees who have left state service were in that total - meaning that 90 disciplinary cases are still pending.
The internal review by the state Department of Social Services will be finished by the close of business Wednesday, and all referrals for potential firings will be made by then.
Malloy also announced that 686 state employees who received benefits had been cleared of any wrongdoing as their income was low enough to qualify for the benefits. Overall, 824 state employees, including state police troopers, filled out an application in an attempt to receive benefits.
Malloy said that the vast majority of state employees who applied "were honest'' about their incomes and liquid assets in bank accounts, which were part of the application process.
During a meeting with his commissioners at the state Capitol on Tuesday morning, Malloy said that the disciplinary cases "cannot languish'' within state departments.
"You must move forward with these matters in a timely fashion,'' Malloy said.
Attorney Rich Rochlin, who represents 17 clients who are facing discipline, has said publicly that state workers changed details on the application forms of some other state employees in order to allow them to qualify for benefits. Rochlin even released the two-page application of one of his clients to show what had been written on the form by a Department of Social Services employee.
But when asked Tuesday if he had any evidence that state employees had altered the forms, Malloy responded, "Not that we're aware of. No.''
Rochlin said that two of his clients have been fired, but he refused to reveal their names. One was a healthcare worker at Connecticut Valley Hospital for the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and a member of the New England Healthcare Employees Union, District 1199. The union is representing her in an appeal.
The second client, a man who works in the state Department of Developmental Services and has multiple dependents, was fired on Saturday for the same reason as one of his previous clients, Rochlin said. The dependents are important because employees can qualify for benefits with a higher income if they have a larger family.
"It has to do with understating income,'' Rochlin told Capitol Watch in an interview. "The form was unclear. The worker gave him guidance. He was fired as a result of taking that bad advice. We look forward to getting this in front of less political folks, and they'll reverse this action on a variety of grounds.''
A grievance has already been filed on the man's behalf, and he is awaiting the outcome. The next step would be to go to a multi-member panel in arbitration if the grievance is rejected.
Malloy and his administration have refused to release the names of state employees who were fired, citing a three-page recommendation from the attorney general's office. Mark F. Kohler, an assistant attorney general, wrote that the names of anyone "applying for or receiving assistance from the Department of Social Services'' for food stamps or other assistance should remain confidential.
"That's the decision of the attorney general, and we intend to abide by it,'' said Andrew McDonald, Malloy's chief legal counsel.
In an unusual twist, Rochlin offered the same legal argument as McDonald for refusing to reveal the names.
"I absolutely agree with that,'' Rochlin said. "For once, Andrew and I agree on something. Both state and federal law protect the identity of folks who receive food stamps. ... The problem is you have to make a determination that someone obtained it fraudulently. A judge or a jury has to make a determination that the person committed fraud. Then you can say the person did not receive the benefit legitimately. The attorney general is giving them good advice.''
Rochlin stressed that the fired worker was not Lisa Prout, a state employee who went public in a news conference shortly after Christmas after finding out that she was the subject of a Loudermill hearing -- which is necessary before a worker can be fired. She is still awaiting the outcome of her case.
Prout, represented by Rochlin, also filed a lawsuit that said that the Malloy administration had enacted an "unconstitutional gag order'' that was preventing Rochlin from investigating the case and preparing a defense for his client.
Rochlin is accusing the state Department of Social Services, which administers the food stamp program, of muzzling its employees "to keep us from uncovering the truth" by an "unconstitutional gag order.'' He filed a lawsuit on behalf of Prout to overturn the administration's action. He cited a memo that was sent by an attorney for the department to DSS employees that ordered them not to speak to Rochlin about his investigation into suspected fraud in the food stamp benefits program.
Prout, a 45-year-old single mother who works at Connecticut Valley Hospital for the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, applied for the benefits at the DSS office in Middletown following Tropical Storm Irene and received $524. She is now being investigated by the state "for allegedly understating income and allegedly committing fraud to obtain such benefit,'' according to the lawsuit. State records show that, with overtime, Prout was paid about $82,000 in fiscal 2011.