She wanted to prevent the federal government from "coming back and seizing money."
Those are the words of Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes, spoken in February, under oath, before a state Senate panel. She was explaining the reasoning that went into the decision of her boss, Darrell McGraw, to spend $10 million in state lawsuit settlement proceeds himself, on his own pet projects, as opposed to returning the money to taxpayers.
McGraw had sued and settled in part on behalf of an allegedly "wronged" state agency, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which administers the federally-funded Medicaid program in West Virginia. The money was theirs, but neither DHHS nor the federal government, which pays 73 cents of every dollar our state spends on health care, were getting a refund.
McGraw and Hughes would spend it before someone else could get their hands on it. Take the money and run. That was the plan. And from the looks of it, it has worked to perfection.
But this open admission -- that the office of our state Attorney General was doing something that looked and smelled suspiciously like Medicaid fraud -- left us scratching our heads. Uncle Sam's money is Uncle Sam's money. Could Hughes really, truly, thumb her nose at Washington with impunity?
Then we realized. Which agency is responsible for investigating Medicaid fraud in West Virginia?
Your state attorney general. Who says nobody's above the law?
Because states are charged with spending Medicaid dollars, states have always carried the burden of ensuring those funds are spent properly. That's on health care for the poor, not Sesame Street museum exhibits or back-scratching plaques at university pharmacy schools.
So our fox is doing the defrauding. But maybe, just maybe he's not out of the woods just yet.
In 2006, President Bush funded a new federal "Medicaid Integrity Program" that "dramatically increased the resources available" and dedicated staff to fighting fraud in the program.
So Washington could be watching. Are they? We cannot be certain. But here's a sure bet -- they've never investigated another investigator.
There's always a first time.