Lawmakers on the Government Oversight Committee are trying to get to the bottom of a scandal that has rocked the Maine CDC.
The committee voted unanimously to subpoena six people, including Maine CDC Director Dr. Sheila Pinette, hoping to question them about the alleged shredding of public documents related to nearly $4.7 million in grant awards. In addition to Pinette, the committee also subpoenaed Debra Wigand, the CDC’s director of public health, Andrew Finch, senior program manager for Healthy Maine Partnerships, Christine Zukas, the deputy director; and Lisa Sockabasin, director of the Office of Health Equity.
Former CDC official Sharon Leahy-Lind is suing the agency, saying she was told by Wigand to shred documents related to the federal funding after a newspaper had requested them. Leahy-Lind says she was harassed after refusing to shred the documents. The matter is now being investigated by the FBI.
The people involved in the alleged scandal have refused to appear voluntarily before the committee, forcing the committee to use their subpoena power.
“We need to know what happened? Who was there and why did it happen? And these are questions we cannot answer without the input of these individuals,” said Senatro Emily Cain, an Orono Democrat and co-chair of the committee.
Committee members said they were “troubled” when they received a letter from attorneys representing the state regarding the testimony of the people they’ve chosen to subpoena. Lawmakers were told those people will not be able to answer questions relating to their work at the CDC.
“I think above all our job is to maintain the trust of the governed. And I cannot see just because we got a letter from a lawyer that we walk away and say this isn’t our responsibility and we can’t do anything about it. I think we have to do our work,” said committee co-chair Chuck Kruger, a Thomaston Democrat.
Some committee members, like Farmington Republican Lance Harvell, fear that summoning these folks to testify may be a waste of time, since any testimony could potentially be used against them in an upcoming civil suit they’re more likely to clam up.
“My sense is they’re gonna lawyer up and that’s what we’re gonna get,” Harvell said. “I think the question is once that happens, where are we then? Because while we do have investigatory abilities our ability to compel anyone to go farther than that is extremely limited.”
Cynthia Dill, an attorney representing Leahy-Lind the original whistleblower in this case, now says she has another plaintiff coming forward to join the lawsuit. But she wouldn’t say whether that person was also asked to shred documents.
“I think I’ll wait until the case is filed. Rather than speculate, the case will be filed than it will be a public document and then you can have all the information you want,” Dill said.
Those subpoenaed are scheduled to appear before the committee next month.