MN DHS: Former inspector general investigation ends with no discipline

The investigation into a state anti-fraud investigator has concluded with no discipline and no public findings, officials revealed Monday.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services recently concluded a monthslong internal investigation into former Inspector General Carolyn Ham, Commissioner Jodi Harpstead told lawmakers Monday. Harpstead and other DHS officials added little more information, other than that Ham was not disciplined, remains reassigned to another area of the agency, and will return to her old post, which includes overseeing investigators who probe social service agencies for fraud, among other things.

It’s never been clear exactly what Ham was officially being investigated for, but she was at the center of a highly charged controversy surrounding taxpayer-subsidized child care fraud that began more than a year ago.

CHILD CARE FRAUD PROBE

In May 2018, a TV report aired sensational allegations that suggested millions of dollars in state-administered child care federal funds were being obtained fraudulently and funneled to Islamic terrorists.

That sweeping narrative proved unsubstantiated, but an investigation by the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Auditor found concerns that fraud was “pervasive” in the program and that Ham was a flashpoint of tension among a group of investigators. The office’s report, released in March, found that there was a “serious rift” between Ham and a team of 14 investigators under her: They believed she was undermining their efforts to go after fraud and abuse by child care centers.

Later that month, Ham was put on leave while an unspecified internal complaint was investigated by DHS officials.

HAM DEFENDED HERSELF

Carolyn Ham

Ham fired back at the suggestion she was part of a problem.

“This controversy has become a political distraction, and I am eager for the truth to come to light,” she said in a public statement. “The results of this investigation will show that there was no failure of leadership on my part.”

The situation entered a sort of stasis for some time after that. In fact, Ham remained on paid leave, earning about $42,000 while not working, while she waited for the investigation to start. It commenced sometime in July.

REASSIGNED, REPLACED

Ham was reassigned to the agency’s general counsel’s office while former New Brighton police Chief Bob Jacobson was hired as “interim” inspector general.

Jacobson remains at that post, although as of Monday afternoon, the agency’s website still listed Ham as still occupying the full-time position. When asked for a clarification, spokeswoman Sarah Berg said the following: “Carolyn Ham is on leave from the Inspector General position. Bob Jacobson is the interim manager for the Office of the Inspector General.”

Ham could not be reached for comment Monday.

On Monday, Harpstead said she had no plans for Ham to return to the inspector general’s office.

POLITICAL FALLOUT: ‘BOMBSHELL’?

Harpstead spent more than two hours Monday morning updating a committee of House members on her first 90 days as commissioner and how she plans to move the agency forward in what has been a turbulent stretch for the agency, at least in terms of news coverage.

Ham’s name was never mentioned until near the end of the meeting, when Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, specifically asked about the investigation.

Harpstead’s disclosure stunned many lawmakers, who said they had not been notified.

Following the meeting, a group of Republican lawmakers who have been critical held a news conference, in which Rep. Anne Neu, R-North Branch, called it a “sort of bombshell.”

“We’re certainly concerned that there’s no accountability and no recommendations on what should be changed,” Neu said as part of a general criticism of the agency’s responsiveness to problems.

When pressed, Neu and other Republicans declined to say what they thought should happen to Ham.

“We have very little information at all,” she said.


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