Investigative Group

Federal Union Ensured Armed Robbery Suspect Got Paid While On House Arrest

A civil servants union representing employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) objected to the suspension of VA employee Elizabeth Rivera after she was “arrested and incarcerated for felony armed robbery” and successfully convinced government officials to return her to work and pay her for 30 days she was confined to house arrest.

The union in a grievance pointed out the fact that Rivera’s boss had been arrested with drugs, and management hadn’t fired him. The boss, hospital CEO DeWayne Hamlin, “responded by threatening the union with filing charges against them if they continued to bring it [his arrest] up,” according to internal documents addressed to Hamlin and obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.

The VA eventually tried to fire Hamlin for his handling of the Rivera incident, but that decision was also reversed after the VA concluded it would be blocked by the Merit Systems Protection Board, which provides an avenue for even top executives to file union-like protests in attempts to block discipline.

The notice of proposed termination to Hamlin reads in part:

You met with Rivera Rivera and her representative, union executive vice-president Richard Colon, to discuss the grievance. During this meeting, Mr. Colon argued, among other things, that it was unfair for you to suspend Rivera Rivera for being arrested when you were arrested in April 2014 for Driving Under the Influence and possession of a narcotic without a prescription, and you were not suspended. The union confronted you with your arrest mug shot and arrest police record and you responded by threatening the union with filing charges against them if they continued to bring it up, or words to that effect.

Shortly thereafter, on or about August 3, 2015, you reversed your decision to indefinitely suspend Rivera Rivera and instead held her suspension in abeyance, allowed her to return to work, and granted her 30 days of administrative time while she was on house arrest. You exercised poor judgement when you settled the grievance in a manner that did not protect the best interest of the Veterans.

Rivera was assigned to work in the hospital security department while wearing a GPS ankle monitor as part of the plea deal stemming from the arrest for armed robbery. She pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and authorities dropped the charge of felony armed robbery.

Eugene Lugo, the American Federation of Government Employees local president in Puerto Rico, hung up the phone when TheDCNF asked him about the Rivera case last year.

In April 2016, now-VA Secretary David Shulkin contested TheDCNF’s exclusive report that the Rivera was kept on the payroll, telling a congressional panel that “it is my understanding that that person is not currently working at the VA in San Juan.” He later acknowledged that he was mistaken.

Rivera worked at the VA hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Hamlin served as CEO. A management-side labor relations specialist in the human resources department, Tito Santiago Rodriguez, is also a convicted sex offender.

The VA attempted to fire Hamlin for “conduct unbecoming a senior leader” over myriad examples of alleged retaliation against people he perceived as being in any way close to a low-level employee who first flagged Hamlin’s arrest, the paperwork shows.

“I just don’t want them here. I can’t trust them. And remove them quickly,” he said, according to the paperwork.

But Hamlin’s firing paperwork does not mention the instance when he allegedly offered Rosayma Lopez, a low-level employee, $350,000 to resign after she refused to help concoct reasons to fire the woman who first blew the whistle on Hamlin’s arrest.

The settlement would have come from taxpayer funds. Lopez declined the offer, saying she just wanted to serve veterans. The Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency, has been investigating Hamlin for years, and it is unclear why the investigation is taking so long.

On Oct. 15, 2017, Hamlin agreed to be demoted in exchange for the VA withdrawing its attempt to fire him, VA spokesman Curt Cashour told TheDCNF. He took a pay cut and moved to Kentucky to work in the Veterans Canteen Service Central Office.

Hamlin’s stature seems to be rising again. “Beginning in February of 2018, Hamlin will assume direct oversight for business, leadership, and operational control of 12 canteens located in Ohio, Kentucky and the Michigan area. His primary responsibilities will include securing revenue and earnings goals and meeting operational and customer service standards,” Cashour said.

Cashour said “our hands were tied by the Merit Systems Protection Board, which was poised to overturn Hamlin’s firing, reinstate him to a Senior Executive Service position and force VA to pay his attorney’s fees. That’s why on May 2, 2017, following discussions with the Merit Systems Protection Board administrative judge, VA rescinded Hamlin’s removal.” He said the situation would likely not occur now because of “the passage of the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. This means the action had to meet a higher standard of evidence than it would have had it been initiated today.”

At a September 2016 “Leaders Developing Leaders” conference–after the misconduct listed in the firing notice, which is dated December 2016–Hamlin was named a “coach” and a “lead,” shaping other VA managers in his image.

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