It’s official, fellow Maine taxpayers. We’re now the victims of a half-million-dollar shakedown.
Gov. Paul LePage told Senate President Justin Alfond and House Speaker Mark Eves on Thursday that he has no intention, none whatsoever, of going after the Alexander Group to recoup the $474,760 it stole from the Guv in exchange for a welfare report riddled with plagiarism.
No surprise there. What was once intended to be a high-caliber re-election campaign weapon for LePage (“Medicaid Expert: Economically Speaking, Poor People Are Such A Drag!”) has instead boomeranged into yet another reason to throw the Big Guy out on his ear come November.
LePage’s reason for now “moving forward,” as spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett later put it, without hauling Gary Alexander and his merry band of makeup artists into court?
“He said the administration could pursue it in the courts, but the Alexander Group has been so discredited because of this recent experience – they don’t have any work around the country, so basically they’re broke,” recalled Eves in an interview on Friday.
“So what he said was even if we won, we wouldn’t see the money,” Eves continued. “Which was either a true acknowledgment or sidestep, I don’t know.”
I’m going with sidestep.
This debacle, after all, is about far more than the state funds still lining Alexander’s pocket – roughly half of the $925,000 he would have netted had his latest and not-so-greatest “report” not dissolved last May into more pieces of plagiarism than you could shake a search engine at.
No, sir. This also should be about how Alexander got the job in the first place – a tale that would have unfolded in unvarnished detail via the subpoenas, depositions and other discovery tools that are part and parcel of a full-bore lawsuit.
Freedom of Access Act requests by this newspaper have already revealed that the Alexander Group saga dates back at least to this time last year.
At the time, Sam Adolphsen, then the “director of strategic development” for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, was quietly at work persuading his colleagues that the Alexander Group was the one and only outfit worthy of a “sole source” (or no-bid) contract to overhaul Maine’s entire welfare system.
You might remember Adolphsen from the Maine Heritage Policy Center, the ankle-deep conservative “think tank” that has essentially served as Maine’s shadow government since LePage took office in 2010.
Adolphsen worked at the center under CEO Tarren Bragdon (co-chairman of LePage’s transition team in 2010), who left Maine to run the Foundation for Government Accountability in Florida. Back in January 2013, the foundation hosted a call-in “Medicaid Cure Conversation” featuring none other than Gary Alexander.
(This, of course, is the same Gary Alexander whose controversy-plagued stints as the head of human services in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania didn’t stop LePage from offering him Maine’s top DHHS job in 2010. Alexander turned it down because, ahem, the pay wasn’t high enough.)
So back to Adolphsen.
To satisfy Maine’s no-bid-contract requirements, he had to complete a “Sole Source Authorization Form” and run it up the flagpole for review by the state’s bean counters.
He did so just over a year ago. It’s a six-question form and Question 3 asks for proof that “the supplies or services required are unique to a specific contractor.”
Adolphsen’s answer, in part, reads, “AG (Alexander Group) has twenty years of creating and implementing reforms in large public welfare agencies.”
Now that’s interesting. Go to the Alexander Groups’ website (or what’s left of it) and the first words you see are, “The Alexander Group, LLC, (AG) was founded in March 2013 by Gary D. Alexander.”
So why did Adolphsen tack an extra 19.5 years onto the Alexander Group’s corporate history?
We’ll never know.
Another oddity: A Sole Source Authorization Form signed on Aug. 28, 2013, by then-DHHS Chief Operating Officer William Boeschenstein sets the total payment to the Alexander Group at $744,480. How and why, then, did the actual contract eventually balloon to $925,000?
We’ll never know.
Then there’s LePage himself. Back in December, just after the Alexander Group contract became public and inquiring minds started looking into Alexander’s shaky credentials, the governor implied to WABI-TV in Bangor that this was all news to him.
“I don’t know, I didn’t hire him (Alexander), DHHS did. … I don’t know much about what they did,” LePage told the TV station.
Oh really? Then why did LePage, responding to an email two months earlier from DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew announcing the state and the Alexander Group were good to go, hand-write, “Go for it!” in response?
We’ll never know.
We do know this, though: Adolphsen, who engineered this train wreck, has since been promoted not once, but twice. He’s now DHHS’ chief operating officer following Boeschenstein’s departure in May.
You read that right. Adolphsen is now his own former boss.
House Speaker Eves said the Legislature did all it can to recoup the money paid to Alexander before the bottom fell out. A bill calling for cancellation of the contract and a full refund was vetoed in June by LePage, who actually told the Democratic legislative leaders in his veto letter, “Don’t worry yourselves about what the executive branch is doing.”
(Or, as the Wizard of Oz once said, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”)
But for LePage, the self-styled crusader against wasteful government spending, to let Alexander to walk away (he ultimately paid the state a mere $27,000 penalty for his sins) is the height of hypocrisy. So is the silence of his ever-loyal base, who would be in orbit right now had this kind of charade been concocted by the Democrats.
“It’s extremely unfortunate that a half-million in taxpayer dollars are out the door and he’s abandoned any attempt to recoup that,” said Eves. “And being the fiscally conservative businessman that he is, I would have expected different.”
At the very least, every taxpayer in Maine has been taken by a con artist who, rather than be held to account for his actions in a court of law, was allowed to take the money and run.
At the very worst, this scandal extends far beyond Gary Alexander. And as of last week, that’s a story that will never be told.
This column has been updated to correct Sam Adolphsen’s former position at the Maine Heritage Policy Center.