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Maine woman sues California security firm, alleging violation of whistleblower protection law

A Maine woman has filed suit in federal court against a California security services firm, saying the company retaliated against her when she complained about allegedly illegal acts being committed by an executive at the company. According to her lawsuit, Pamela Treadwell of Sidney also said the firm violated Maine s equal pay act by paying her less than men who did the same work, even after she took over the duties of a male employee at Vescom Corp. Vescom is a part of Worldwide Sourcing Group, which also owns the security firms Vets Securing America, American Guard Service and Professional Building Maintenance, a property management company. The company says it is one of the largest privately-owned security firms in the country.

Treadwell, who worked for Vescom from 1988 until she resigned in March 2014, said in court documents that many of the problems began when the company hired a man named Ousama Karawia to help with management of the firm. Karawia was convicted in 2012 of grand theft, insurance fraud and possession of an assault weapon for offenses committed at a separate security service he co-owned that had provided security for sites in California and the Statue of Liberty in New York. He was found guilty of setting up a shell company to hide the true number of his employees as a way to avoid paying higher workers compensation premiums. Vescom had an office in Hampden that has since been closed, and the company is now based in California. Treadwell s suit was filed in Maine state court and subsequently moved to the federal U.S. District Court in Portland because Vescom is located out of state. According to Treadwell s suit, Karawia committed insurance fraud while at Vescom by getting a policy that covered employees of WWSG s other companies at a low rate, but used Vescom s claims history rather than the higher claims rate of the other companies. According to the suit, Treadwell said she told the company s owners that Karawia was getting kickbacks from the insurer and that having Karawia involved in the company ran afoul of state licensing regulations that bar felons from having management positions in a security firm. Karawia had been convicted before he was hired at Vescom and his appeal of his sentence which included home confinement and probation was turned down by a California court in 2014. After forwarding those concerns to the company s owners, the suit claims, Treadwell was shunned by the top management in the company and was told she would have to pay for insurance coverage for her husband on her employer-provided health care policy at a cost of $7,800 a year. Finally, Karawia moved money out of the company s payroll account, meaning that employees checks would bounce. Treadwell said in the suit that Karawia reminded her that her name was on the checks as the company vice president, suggesting she might be liable if they bounced.

At that point, Treadwell said she resigned so as not to be implicated in the check-bouncing and accused of submitting false documents to state regulators.

She thought she had to leave, Rebecca Webber, Treadwell s lawyer at the firm Skelton Taintor and Abbott, said in an interview Monday. Treadwell filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission, which did not find reasonable grounds for her whistleblower protection and discrimination claims. But Webber said the commission held only a brief telephone conference on the allegations, which led her to decide to file the lawsuit asking for damages. The amount of damages being sought was not disclosed in the lawsuit. Melissa A. Hewey, a lawyer at Drummond Woodsum who represents Vescom and the other companies, along with Karawia, said the MHRC finding suggests the case is weak.

The Human Rights Commission is certainly employee-friendly and I don t think there s any reason to believe the courts will find any differently, she said.

Both Webber and Hewey said the case would likely go to trial in late fall, although Hewey said she would seek to have a judge issue a summary judgment in her clients favor.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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Marijuana legalization could complicate Maine National Guard recruiting

The head of the Maine National Guard is worried that marijuana legalization could render more people ineligible for service even as a new tuition assistance program is helping recruit and retain members. Brig. Gen. Douglas Farnham told lawmakers that voters recent decision to legalize recreational marijuana use for those 21 and over in the state could complicate the life choices made by young people. Farnham expressed concerns that marijuana s new status will make it even more difficult for many to make good choices and said lawmakers face a challenge as they work to legalize a drug that is still prohibited under federal law.

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Marijuana Legalization Could Complicate Maine National Guard Recruiting

As I told you last year, 70 percent of 17- to 24-years-olds are ineligible for military service due to education, police record, drug use, physical standards or obesity, Farnham said during a joint session of the Maine House and Senate. Kids are making poor choices that negatively affect their opportunities in life. So now we have legalized marijuana just to complicate those choices. Marijuana use complicates enlisting in the military, can affect the ability to get security clearances and cannot be used by military members. While the nation s worsening obesity epidemic likely presents a more formidable recruitment problem for the military, the growing juxtaposition between state and federal drug laws also poses a potential challenge. Eight states plus the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana use, and medical marijuana is now allowed to varying degrees in 28 states.

All military recruits including applicants to the Maine National Guard are tested for drugs and answer questions about prior drug use as part of the enlistment process. Individuals who acknowledge sporadic, not habitual use of marijuana prior to enlistment can get a waiver. And individuals whose urine tests positive for marijuana during screening are given one additional chance to test clean over the following 90 days or else be disqualified. Last November, the Department of Defense announced plans to review enlistment standards to ensure they are not unduly restrictive. The enlistment standards under review included physical fitness and body composition, tattoos, single parents and past marijuana use.

Some of these things we ll never be able to compromise on we ll always have to maintain high standards but at the same time, these benchmarks must be kept relevant for both today s force and tomorrow s, meaning we have to ensure they re not unnecessarily restrictive, President Obama s Defense Secretary, Ash Carter, said at the time. It is unclear whether that review is continuing under the Trump administration, which has so far adopted a harsher stance toward marijuana legalization.

This is the second year in a row that Farnham who also serves as the commissioner of the Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management has expressed concerns about recruitment. During last year s address to the Legislature, Farnham warned that those poor choices were further shrinking the pool of potential recruits for both the Maine National Guard and military service in general. Less than 1 percent of the U.S. population serves in the military. But Farnham also had good news Tuesday on the recruiting front for lawmakers. Last year, lawmakers passed a bill offering tuition waivers for Maine National Guard members at the state s public colleges and universities. At the time of Farnham s 2016 speech, the bill was stalled in the legislative process. But a year later, the general said the tuition assistance program was already yielding results as 143 members took advantage of the waivers during the fall semester.

Despite many headwinds on the recruiting front, we saw the first uptick in a couple of years in the recruiting numbers, Farnham said. This program greatly assists the members of the Maine Guard accomplish personal and professional education goals. Without this program, we would not be competitive in recruiting or retention in our region.

In an interview afterward, Farnham said that within a week of the bill s passage two National Guard members chose to enroll in colleges in Maine rather than in New Hampshire because of the waivers. And with many recruiters nationwide still struggling, Farnham said the tuition assistance program could be making a difference in Maine.

I think it has been a big part, he said. The Maine Air National Guard and the Maine Army National Guard have more than 3,200 soldiers and airmen statewide, including more than 900 full-time members. Both guard branches serve domestically and in overseas deployments. The 101st Air Refueling Wing based at Bangor International Airport, for instance, deployed 345 personnel to 10 overseas locations last year, which Farnham pointed out is roughly one-third of the force. Additionally, Farnham said 10 members of the Maine National Guard s Counter-Drug Task Force worked with state and federal law enforcement offices combating drug trafficking. Those service members provided assistance on 160 cases by conducting background investigations, criminal analysis, mobile device forensics and producing intelligence reports.

Our service members were proud to contribute to the seizure of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, pharmaceuticals, vehicles, weapons and cash, he said. But most importantly, they know they are a force multiplier in law enforcement efforts to reduce the tremendous harm that heroin and other drugs are causing in every corner of the state.

Discussing his concerns about marijuana legalization after the speech, Farnham said the applicant pool for recruits is getting smaller and smaller due, at least in part, to drug use. Farnham said it was unclear how legalization would affect the Maine National Guard, but expressed concerns about the message being sent to young people.

We re not really sure where we are going to be, but I do know it is going to be confusing and sends mixed signals to kids about making good choices, Farnham said. And those choices do have long-term effects on what your opportunities are going forward.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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