The necessary steps Washington Gov. Jay Inslee took to get a handle on the spread of the coronavirus in the state where it first appeared have apparently achieved the goal of controlling the virus. But the ensuing developments following Inslee's action have spiraled out of control and put the governor in a hunker-down, defensive situation.
First came the unfortunate impact of the economy halt as 600,000 state residents lost their jobs, sending them seeking state unemployment checks to survive the crisis.
Then Washington became the epicenter of a ring of foreign thieves tapping into the unemployment claims system, the calculation of the millions lost magnifying each day.
It's now estimated that the loss to the state is at nearly $1 billion, dwarfing the loss suffered by the handful of other states whose payment systems were hacked, reportedly by scammers including a Nigerian crime ring.
Federal officials said Washington suffered far more losses than the half dozen other states that experience hackers because this state had a vulnerable system. That brought an unseemly defensive response from the governor's staff that if the feds knew Washington systems for handing claims was vulnerable, "why didn't they tell us." Really?
Then came the far more unfortunate, and frankly indefensible, action Inslee's Employment Security Department (ESD) commissioner, Suzie LeVine, took to try to get control of the hundreds of millions of state dollars in fraudulent claims. LeVine decided to hold up payments for unemployment claims until steps were taken to verify each claim, rather than make the payments and then reviewing the applications.
Now come the stories of anguish, desperation, and despair from those who first suffered the loss of jobs and now are suffering the loss of what's turning for many to be survival money because of LeVine's fraud-correction strategy.
But also now comes Lynn Brewer, who knows a few things about financial shenanigans and malfeasance from her days as an executive at Enron, a name that may ring few memory bells, 20 years on, despite the fact that until its bankruptcy in 2001, it was hailed as "America's most innovative company."
Thus when she and her husband's unemployment checks were caught up in the ESD scheme and the resulting scandal still unfolding, she expressed a sense of "I've been here before," with strong indignation in her voice.
In her book, "House of Cards: Confessions of an Enron Executive," after her 2001
departure from Enron, she detailed what happened inside the company. And for several years, she as a sought-after national speaker on the topic of corporate integrity.
"This is a governance failure of Enron proportions," Brewer said. "From my experience at Enron, I believe there are underlying issues with ESD that have not been revealed to the public by the media."
So she has filed a public records request seeking all email contact between Inslee and LeVine and between LeVine and those in her department.
"The public records request will tell us what those underlying issues are," Brewer added. "With a corporation, the Securities and Exchange Commission would investigate. But here, it is left to the people to do the investigation."
Brewer also said she has "discussed a possible class-action lawsuit with one of the class action law firms involved in the Enron cases and they are assessing that."
Brewer told me today that she learned from one of those emailing her that ESD is refusing benefits to those who worked for a church or a nonprofit, which should provide fodder for media questions of the governor.
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