Audit faults ex-chief of sex-offender unit

Staff writerNovember 19, 2013 

The former superintendent of the sex-offender lockup on McNeil Island improperly worked under a contract he had negotiated while in charge, state auditors say.

DEAN J. KOEPFLER / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The former superintendent of the sex-offender lockup on McNeil Island improperly worked under a contract he had negotiated while in charge, state auditors say.

The audit released Monday deals with actions in 2010 and earlier, investigated by auditors reporting to former State Auditor Brian Sonntag and his successor, Troy Kelley. The bottom line, they wrote: “We found reasonable cause to believe an improper governmental action occurred.”

Psychologist Henry Richards led the Special Commitment Center between 2004 and 2009. Auditors say emails and contract documents from his time there show Richards approved the renewal of contracts with the University of Washington to provide consultation, research and training to the sex-offender center.

After leaving, auditors said, Richards went on to work as a subcontractor to UW under those same contracts. The university paid him $21,321 over nine months in 2009 and 2010, auditors wrote.

Reached by phone Monday, Richards said the report is proof that “no good deed goes unpunished,” since he worked on the project at the state’s request at less than what he could have been paid for doing other work.

“I don’t believe I’ve done anything wrong, deceitful, deceptive or improper. That’s my heartfelt belief,” said Richards, a Seattle resident and member of the UW clinical faculty. Richards was last on paid status in July 2010, according to the university.

The project, Richards said, involved looking into whether the state’s method for predicting whether sex offenders will commit more crimes would work on a group of offenders who hadn’t been sent to the commitment center.

State law forbids former state employees from working within a year of leaving the state payroll on a contract they negotiated during their last two years.

Investigators said Richards checked with the state ethics board before doing the work, but didn’t disclose to the board the full extent of his role negotiating the contract, saying he “did not directly control this contract, although I had broad oversight” of the contract manager.

Richards said Monday his work shouldn’t run afoul of the revolving-door law because he didn’t approve the contract — even if he sent emails providing important information from a scientific perspective about how the work should be done, he said.

Separately, auditors took issue with Richards authorizing spending tied to a professional group he chaired while working as superintendent.

The center rejected his request to send two people to give presentations at a conference in Atlanta, auditors said. But the presentations ended up happening anyway after Richards added lecture services to a contract with UW, they said.

The cost of the travel and presentation totaled $7,608.

Richards said someone else brought up the idea of using the UW contract instead of the normal route, which was unavailable because of budget cuts, he said.

Auditors forwarded their conclusions to the Executive Ethics Board, which enforces state ethics laws and could fine Richards.

The Department of Social and Health Services said it would review the case “to identify any appropriate changes to systems or processes to minimize the opportunity for similar occurrences in the future.”

DSHS runs the center, which confines hundreds of sexually violent offenders who have finished prison sentences but are deemed eligible for staying locked up under a system of civil commitment.

Richards said it seems that different parts of the state bureaucracy don’t know what other parts did.

“Am I the evil genius that deceived DSHS, the University of Washington, the professional ethics board, and was openly doing it in front of the Legislature and the governor’s policy office?” he said. “I don’t think that makes a lot of sense. I’m just not that bright.”

Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 blog.thenewstribune.com/politics jordan.schrader@ thenewstribune.com @Jordan_Schrader

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