Two technicians at a local urinalysis lab were terminated earlier this year after being accused of taking bribes from Bexar County probationers in exchange for clean drug tests, officials confirmed.
But police, prosecutors and judges were not notified of either the terminations or the allegations, which came on the heels of other controversies involving Victoria-based Treatment Associates, a urine-testing facility used by the Bexar County Community Supervision and Corrections Department.
Sheri Simonelli, president of the Central Texas Association of Public Employees, the probation officers' union, said two female lab technicians were accused in November of trading clean urine tests for $20 each. The technicians, who were not identified, were fired four months later.
Simonelli said probation officers have complained that Chief Probation Officer Bill Fitzgerald and his deputy, Kathleen Cline, didn't inform law enforcement authorities of the allegations.
“There was enough evidence to prosecute,” said Simonelli, who has a wrongful termination lawsuit pending against Fitzgerald and Cline.
Simonelli was terminated last year, shortly after she publicly accused Fitzgerald of not addressing probation officers' concerns about faulty drug tests. Former deputy probation chief Paul Kosierowski last week filed a wrongful termination suit alleging, among other things, that he, too, was terminated for speaking out about the drug tests.
Between the false positives and allegedly corrupt lab workers, it's hard to understand why the Bexar Probation department hasn't terminated this contract many months ago, much less why they wouldn't report bribery allegations to the authorities.
What's more, this isn't the first time officials discovered alleged corruption at the same urinalysis firm: "In 2004, the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated claims that a Treatment Associates lab technician gave clean urine tests to federal probationers in exchange for sex. Adrian Barrientos was convicted and sentenced the next year."
Apparently district judges in Bexar see nothing wrong with the probation department tolerating corruption among its vendors. District Judge Raymond Angelini told the paper “It wasn't up to [Bill Fitzgerald] to investigate” because “Treatment Associates was responsible for investigating its own employees.”
I don't buy that for a second, though! Who believes that if the probation department discovers that its vendor is engaging in bribe-taking and fraud, they have no obligation to report the crime? Next they'll tell us law enforcement shouldn't pursue charges against Barrio Azteca members because it's up to the gang leader to alert authorities of any wrongdoing.
Perhaps understandably, since they were the ones being left in the dark, the local DA's office has been the source of the most vociferous criticisms over this fiasco:
Because of Treatment Associates' troubled history, the union, some local judges and prosecutors said Bexar County should cease its contract with the company.
“They need to get a different company or confirm the samples or do something to show testing is reliable,” said First Assistant District Attorney Cliff Herberg.
The District Attorney's Office last year adopted a policy that prohibits prosecutors from filing motions to revoke probation based solely on a single dirty urine test. Prosecutors now require a second test to confirm the results.
Probation officials and prosecutors have yet to agree on who should pay for the follow-up tests.
“Basically,” Herberg said, “there hasn't been anything done by the probation department to alleviate the lack of trust in the testing system.”
Finally, arguably the most significant development mentioned in the story was Paul Kosierowski filing a wrongful termination lawsuit last week claiming he was fired for complaining about flaws in the urinalysis lab. Paul K was formerly the number two man under Bill Fitzgerald and was widely respected among his peers and others around the state in the probation profession. Lending his voice to substantive legal critiques of the director in court is an even more ominous development than the many other suits against the department.
A reader sent me a copy of Kosierowski's suit which I've yet to read, but when your former #2 decides to take you to court, there's clearly great cause for concern. Litigation by probation officers or the union is one thing, but Fitzgerald's former second in command is more likely to know details of top-level decisions and have a pretty good idea where most of the bodies are buried.
Note to readers from Bexar CSCD: I know these are emotional issues, but please refrain from name calling and ad hominem attacks, whether they're about co-workers or agency management. Try to discuss the issues, not personalities.