Raleigh, N.C. — The U.S. Attorney's Office has launched an investigation into high-dollar consulting contracts and salary payments at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
According to documents provided by DHHS on Friday afternoon, U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker subpoenaed the department for information on more than 30 employees, as well as bidding and payment information for administrative contracts, as part of a criminal investigation. The subpoenas came in late July, about a week before the resignation of former DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos in early August.
The investigation was first reported by The News & Observer.
DHHS spokeswoman Kendra Gerlach said Wos decided to resign before the subpoenas.
"The current secretary had been selected prior to any knowledge of this government inquiry," Gerlach said.
Walker's office did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Gerlach said the department is cooperating with the federal government, but she declined to comment further about the investigation.
"We will continue to respect the confidentiality of the process by the federal government to protect the integrity and fairness of this review," she said in an emailed statement.
The Governor's Office has not responded to requests for comment.
Among the targets of the subpoena are the records of state employees and contractors who have come under fire in the past, both by North Carolina legislators and the State Auditor's Office.
- Les Merritt, a former state auditor who stepped down from the North Carolina State Ethics Commission after WRAL News raised questions about potential conflicts of interest created by his service contract with DHHS
- Thomas Adams, a former chief of staff who received more than $37,000 as "severance" after he served just one month on the job
- Angie Sligh, the former director of the state's upgraded Medicaid payment system who faced allegations of nepotism and the waste of $1.6 million in payments to under-qualified workers for wages, unjustified overtime and holiday pay in a 2015 state audit
- Joe Hauck, an employee of Wos' husband who landed a lucrative contract that put him among the highest-paid workers at DHHS
- Alvarez & Marsal, a consulting firm overseeing agency budget forecasting under a no-bid contract that has nearly tripled in value, to at least $8 million
State lawmakers have grilled DHHS leadership in the past in response to the contracts and audits, often publicly in legislative oversight meetings.
Rep. Justin Burr, co-chairman of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on DHHS, said Friday that he was recently made aware of the federal investigation into DHHS.
"It’s a concern, but it covers several areas that our oversight committee has expressed concerns about," Burr, R-Stanly, said.
Oversight hearings during Wos’ tenure questioned the qualifications of contractors hired by DHHS, as well as the size of those contracts.
"Depending on which one you’re talking about, there was no sort of bid or effort to find the most qualified person," Burr said. "They were just hand-picking individuals."