VA workers sent $1 million in landscaping work to family’s company, special counsel says

(Courtesy)

Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner wrote a Jan. 25 letter to President Donald J. Trump requesting immediate action against an allegedly corrupt employee of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Bedford, Massachusets.

“The landscaping scheme came to OSC from a persistent whistleblower who led investigators to nearly $1 million in improperly spent or documented purchases at the Bedford VA,” said a release from the Office of the Special Counsel in Washington.

Dennis J. Garneau, a maintenance and grounds supervisor, and his daughter Heather Garneau-Harvey, also a Bedford VAMC employee, allegedly directed procurement contracts for landscaping services to Earth Creations Landscaping, a company owned by Garneau’s son, who is unnamed in the report.

Garneau resigned in 2015, but Garneau-Harvey has remained a VA employee, and was demoted only one rank after allegedly defrauding the VA for a period of years.

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“By allowing an employee who engaged in this conduct to remain with the agency, the VA demonstrates a shocking degree of indifference to government ethical standards, procurement regulations, and public integrity,” said Kerner.

The whistleblower, identified as Kevin Cornellier, a tools and parts attendant, disclosed suspicious, frequent, and significant purchase orders for landscaping materials, such as rock salt, mulch and crushed stone.

Cornellier said the majority of these orders were never delivered to the facility, despite payment being made. He persisted for years contacting local authorities regarding his concerns to no avail before finally contacting the Office of the Special Counsel.

“Mr. Cornellier persevered and was ultimately successful in stopping serious procurement fraud,” said Kerner

Cornellier asserted during the investigation that the failure to ensure Harvey-Garneau’s sequestration from the unit where such significant, substantiated wrongdoing occurred constituted gross mismanagement,” Kerner said.

Kerner’s letter to the president said that in June 2016, when Garneau Harvey was first interviewed by investigators, she had claimed to have no knowledge that Earth Creations Landscaping was owned by her brother. Over the course of a two-year criminal investigation, Kerner remained in her federal position.

Kerner wrote:

I strongly urge the VA to ensure that Ms. Garneau-Harvey is removed from any position where she could interact with the Engineering Service or participate in procurement matters, and further encourage the VA to take appropriate measures to ensure that conduct like this does not occur in the future, and to suitably discipline employees who have committed serious wrongdoing.

This disclosure comes on the heels of allegations of mismanagement at a VA medical facility in Temple, Texas.

An internal VA investigative board found that employees funneled $1.3 million through a contractor called Whitetail Industrial Parts and Service, which reaped approximately $400,000 in undue profit by deliberately charging for services that it never rendered.

VA supervisors at the Texas facility are also accused of stealing landscaping equipment and benefitting from the labor of veterans in a vocational training program, whom they instructed to build fences, repair sprinkler systems and perform other landscaping duties at the homes of VA supervisors and their family members.

 

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