News by Professionals 4 Professionals

maine-com-maine

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:

[email protected][1]

References

  1. ^ [email protected] (www.pressherald.com)

Deep cuts in Trump’s proposed budget would have dramatic impact in Maine

The budget that President Trump proposed Thursday would have serious consequences across Maine, disrupting scientific research and social services, affecting everyone from unemployed residents to those who rely on the sea to earn their living. If approved by Congress as proposed, the 52-page plan[1] will strip federal dollars from programs that provide heating oil and meals to low-income Mainers, legal aid to indigent citizens, and funding for services that help the homeless. It would stop federal funds from flowing to Maine Public s television and radio outlets, the University of Maine s Sea Grant research program, and research efforts at the Wells Reserve at Laudholm, which could end up closing.

Deep Cuts In Trump's Proposed Budget Would Have Dramatic Impact In Maine

The budget outline was quickly subjected to withering bipartisan criticism[2] on Capitol Hill.

I have a hard time seeing how eliminating heating assistance, cutting medical research and ending economic development funding do little more than harm people, families and businesses across Maine, independent Sen. Angus King said in a prepared statement. To me this doesn t seem like a serious attempt to offer a reasonable, cost-cutting budget and, sadly, it s hardworking, middle-class folks throughout the state who would bear the brunt of it all. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said there are a number of serious problems with the budget, which will be subject to significant revision by Congress.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine s 1st Congressional District and serves on the House Appropriations Committee, declared it dead on arrival. Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine s 2nd District praised Trump for increasing funding for veterans and national security, but said he has concerns about many of the cuts.

The Trump budget is really a disaster from our perspective, and nothing more than a down payment on tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of everyone else, said Garrett Martin, executive director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy. For Maine families and communities, this budget is a step back in terms of helping communities thrive and create opportunity. The president s budget contains some potential benefits for Mainers, including increased funding for veterans services and opioid treatment and recovery, as well as funding to restart work on a long-stalled federal nuclear waste depository in Nevada, which would create a final resting place for the spent fuel stranded at the former Maine Yankee nuclear power plant in Wiscasset. And most of the proposed cuts in Trump s budget are intended to fund a massive expansion of the military budget, which could benefit Maine s defense contractors.

Here is a look at some areas where the Trump budget could have an impact in Maine:

ENVIRONMENT

The Environmental Protection Agency faces the largest cut in the entire budget 31 percent and a staff reduction of 3,200 which environmentalists say would devastate environmental protection in Maine[3]. The cuts include nearly a third to state grant programs that help clean up abandoned industrial sites and protect air and water quality, and the elimination of grants to help Maine and other states mitigate radon, conduct beach water quality tests and buy cleaner-running school buses. The cuts also would affect the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, which receives more than 20 percent of its funding from the EPA, most of it to support clean air and clean water programs.

The cuts were foreshadowed in a preliminary budget plan leaked last month. Collins, King and Pingree all condemned a 30 percent cut to the so-called brownfield program, which has helped Maine towns clean up closed mill and industrial sites so they can be redeveloped. The official budget document doesn t mention the program by name, but it appears to have been among the more than 50 EPA programs it promises to eliminate to focus on its highest national priorities.

We thought there was a slight chance that some of the cuts would be restored, but instead they cut even deeper, said Pete Didisheim, advocacy director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. This is really a slash-and-burn budget. It s about as bad as we could possibly have imagined.

Deep Cuts In Trump's Proposed Budget Would Have Dramatic Impact In Maine

Seth Barker of Maine Fresh Sea Farms in Walpole holds a line while Sarah Redmond of Maine Sea Grant attaches a string of winged kelp to a line in Clark s Cove in 2015. President Trump s proposed federal budget would eliminate the Sea Grant program. Staff photo by Derek Davis

SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency s Sea Grant program would disappear[4]. The program has funded groundbreaking work on how to monitor juvenile lobster populations so researchers can better predict future health of the stock; assisted mussel, scallop and kelp farmers with research and methodological expertise; developed organic certification guidelines for sea vegetable growers; and helped monitor and contain bacteria and other marine pests that plague shellfish growers and harvesters. Sea Grant researchers created the Fishermen s Forum the industry s premier event in 1976, and helped found the Portland Fish Exchange and the University of Maine s Lobster Institute, which researches issues of concern to the industry.

The Sea Grant funding also helped pay for the removal of dams and restoration of fish habitat in the Penobscot River watershed, and now provides $600,000 a year to improve road crossings and culverts there.

Communities really care about this, because it s allowing them to prepare better and make their roads better before a storm happens, to help reduce flooding, said Kate Dempsey, state director for the Nature Conservancy s Maine chapter, which is a Sea Grant partner. The budget also would eliminate coastal and marine management programs, which include the nation s 29 National Estuarine Research Reserves[5]. One of those the Wells Reserve at Laudholm is in Maine and another, the Great Bay Estuarine Reserve, is just over the border in New Hampshire.

Deep Cuts In Trump's Proposed Budget Would Have Dramatic Impact In Maine

The $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program would be cut by President Trump s budget. In Portland, the program helps fund Preble Street, a social service agency that operates a day shelter and a soup kitchen. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT BLOCK GRANTS

The budget would eliminate funding for the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which provides a wide range of funds for Maine cities and towns, and calls for the elimination of a number of lower priority programs at U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, including the HOME Investment Partnership Program. Community Development Block Grants and HOME funding have helped Portland address the needs of homeless people and improve housing and economic opportunities in low-income neighborhoods, said Mary David, the city s housing and community development director.

Last year, Portland received $1.7 million in block grant funds and $800,000 from HOME. Maine s largest city spends about 45 percent of its CDBG budget on social services, including $150,000 for community policing. Programs that have been recommended for funding next year include food pantries, homeless shelters, mental health services, case work, child care subsidies for low-income single parents and a new program that would offer jobs to panhandlers[6]. The city anticipates spending $807,000 on development activities, such as replacing sidewalks, workforce training for people facing barriers to employment, and other infrastructure programs. Mark Swann, director of the Portland nonprofit Preble Street, which operates a day shelter and soup kitchen, said the elimination of CDBG would make it more difficult for nonprofits that serve the needy to remain open. Our existence is pretty fragile, he said. CDBG is one of the only ways we re getting support for some of the basic emergency services we provide.

Deep Cuts In Trump's Proposed Budget Would Have Dramatic Impact In Maine

The federal Low Income Heating Assistance Program, which provides assistance to about 45,000 Mainers, would be eliminated by Trump s budget, which calls it a lower-impact program. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

HEATING ASSISTANCE

The Low Income Heating Assistance Program, known as LIHEAP, provides heating assistance to about 45,000 Mainers, and it would be gone under Trump s budget. The budget document describes it as a lower-impact program that is unable to demonstrate strong performance outcomes. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services program is administered in Maine by the Maine Housing Authority.

The program is particularly important in Maine, which relies heavily on oil for home heating. A family of four with an income under $47,350 is eligible for assistance.

LEGAL AID

The budget would eliminate the Legal Services Corporation, a Nixon-era agency that provides funding for legal aid agencies that help the poor take grievances to court. In Maine, the agency provides $1.4 million a year to Pine Tree Legal Assistance, a 50-year-old legal aid agency that represents poor Mainers in 4,500 cases a year. That funding represents over half our budget for general legal services, and that s especially important in rural Maine because we have fewer funding sources in rural counties, said Nan Heald, Pine Tree s executive director. A volunteer for Pine Tree, Tom Cox, made national news[7] after exposing the robo-signing scandal among sub-prime mortgage lenders. In its early years, Pine Tree brought young legal fellows from out of state, including a young Virginia lawyer named Angus King[8] and attorney Tom Tureen, who would reach the 1980 Indian land claims settlement[9] with the state, transforming the rights of tribal people in the eastern United States.

If the Legal Services Corporation were eliminated, Heald said, Pine Tree wouldn t close but would likely have to close some of its six offices around the state.

AGRICULTURE

The budget would cut the U.S. Department of Agriculture by 21 percent. John Bott, spokesman for Maine s agriculture commissioner, Walt Whitcomb, said the commissioner was not available to comment on what effect the cuts could have in Maine. The USDA regularly gives grants to Maine farms and farm-related businesses. The farm conservation group Maine Farmland Trust, which has protected 40,000 acres of Maine farmland, also provides services to farms that are aided by USDA grants. Last fall, the USDA announced a grant to the trust to help its Farming for Wholesale program, which helps farmers find wholesale markets for their goods. For smaller-scale farmers, finding a place in a bigger marketplace can be one of their toughest challenges.

We are very concerned about any proposed cuts to the USDA budget which could directly impact the availability of programs and services that many of Maine s farmers rely on for technical assistance and financing support, said Amanda Beal, president of the Belfast-based trust. Among those programs are those implemented by the USDA s Natural Resources Conservation Service, which gives technical support to farms across Maine on topics diverse as soil and energy usage. The Maine office of the USDA s Farm Service Agency works on everything from disaster and flood relief to helping dairy farmers with protections on milk pricing.

EDUCATION

Trump s budget would cut $9.2 billion, 13.5 percent, from the Department of Education budget, reducing or eliminating grants for teacher training, after-school programs and aid to low-income and first-generation college students. It would add $1.4 billion for school choice programs, including charter schools, private-school vouchers and other alternatives to public schools. Maine gets almost $700 million in funds from the Department of Education every year. Most of it is for grants to help students pay for higher education: $409 million for federal direct student loan program, $104 million in Pell grants and $8.3 million in federal work-study grants. Maine s federal Department of Education grants for K-12 programs include $58.6 million for special education, $53.6 million for Title I funds for disadvantaged youth, $15.8 million in vocational rehabilitation and $10.7 million for effective instruction.

Nationwide, federal funds pay for 8 percent of elementary and secondary education; the rest is funded by the state. In addition to the Department of Education, federal education funds come from the Department of Health and Human Services Head Start program and the Department of Agriculture s School Lunch program. Maine gets about $13 million in Head Start funds and more than $45 million for various child nutrition programs. By contrast, Maine s charter schools could benefit from the increase in federal funding available. So far, three charter schools in Maine have received a total of about $1 million in federal funds, in the form of grants to develop performance-based education plans, or technology grants.

ARTS AND HUMANITIES

Trump is proposing to dismantle the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, which together provided more than $2.8 million in Maine last year. The NEH awarded $1.65 million to Maine institutions in 2016 through the Maine Humanities Council, which relies on the NEH for 73 percent of its budget, said executive director Hayden Anderson. Recent NEH-funded projects include the council s $145,000 14th Amendment project, which last year challenged artists and humanities organizations to create work relating to the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which addresses equal protection. It granted the Maine State Museum $275,000 to digitize 100,000 pages of historic Maine newspapers.

Another $300,000 is helping the Maine Historical Society install a solar energy system at a warehouse storage facility that it jointly operates with the Portland Public Library. Since 2013, the NEH has given the University of Maine $339,400 to digitize an unpublished Penobscot language dictionary, create a revised and expanded database, and prepare a web-based and print dictionary. The NEA spends about $1.2 million in Maine each year. That money supports staff at the Maine Arts Commission, programs such as Poetry Out Loud, and individual artists and arts organizations, who compete for about $500,000 in grants some for as little as $500, some for $50,000 or more. Maine composer Daniel Sonenberg wrote to Collins on Thursday, objecting to Trump s budget. Sonenberg used $15,000 in NEA money to help complete his opera The Summer King, which will premiere in Pittsburgh in late April.

Deep Cuts In Trump's Proposed Budget Would Have Dramatic Impact In Maine

Maine Public, the statewide public radio and television broadcaster, would lose $1.7 million, 14 percent of its annual budget, under the Trump budget. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

PUBLIC BROADCASTING

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which gets $485 million annually and distributes most of that to local public broadcasters, would lose all funding. Maine s statewide public radio and television broadcaster, Maine Public, would lose $1.7 million, or 14 percent of its annual budget. The loss of such a large chunk of its budget would be very serious, but would not mean the network s five TV stations and 12 radio stations would go away, said Mark Vogelzang, Maine Public s CEO. He said Maine Public is in better shape than some public broadcasters because of a $30 million fundraising campaign that began in 2013 and is nearly complete. If federal funding is cut, Maine Public could draw on the funds to fill future budget gaps, although some of it has already been used to buy stations and equipment for the broadcaster s five-station Maine Public Classical radio network.

We started (the fundraising campaign) to build Maine Public Classical, to build up our journalism and our digital efforts, and to keep the network strong in the face of the kind of threat we re now facing, Vogelzang said.

NORTHERN BORDER REGIONAL COMMISSION

Trump wants to eliminate this federal-state partnership, which provides funding for infrastructure, land preservation, workforce training, and public services in distressed communities in the Northern Forest region of Maine and three other states. The commission, founded by an act of Congress in 2008, has invested $8 million in the region since 2010, including $250,000 to help Acme Monaco expand in Presque Isle, another $250,000 to three St. John Valley towns to build boat landings and picnic areas for the 2014 World Acadian Congress, $250,000 to upgrade a roadway to attract investment in a Jay stone quarry, and $200,000 to help Van Buren build a vegetable processing plant for local farmers to expand their markets.

It s been a very valuable source of economic development dollars for Aroostook County, said Jon Gullver, director of innovation and community relations at the Northern Maine Development Commission in Caribou.

DEFENSE

The military would see a staggering increase in funding under Trump s proposal. The budget adds $52 billion to the Department of Defense budget, restoring it to the level before cuts made under former President Barack Obama took hold. Bath Iron Works, the biggest defense contractor in Maine, could benefit from increased defense funding. The shipbuilder relies on military contracts for the bulk of work done there, and Trump has pledged to rebuild military assets, including Navy ships. If Trump follow through on his pledge to rebuild all areas of the military, including deferred maintenance of equipment and adding new supplies and munitions, that could be good news for other defense contractors.

Pratt & Whitney has a facility in Berwick that produces components for the F-35 fighter[10], though Trump has criticized that program in recent months. A number of smaller engineering and contracting firms in Maine have won defense contracts in recent years. Spokesmen for both BIW and Pratt & Whitney spokesman declined to comment on the budget.

VETERANS

The Department of Veterans Affairs would receive a 6 percent increase in programming funds for the next fiscal year, and a state veterans advocate said there is no question the increased funding will help veterans services in Maine. Absolutely, in the long run, it ll be good for us, said Gary Laweryson of Waldoboro, a retired Marine who is chairman of the Maine Veterans Coordinating Committee. It s up to us to make sure they use it the right way. The funding boost could allow for some expansion and rehabilitation of buildings at the VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus, the federal hospital campus outside Augusta, he said.

Trump s plan also calls for $4.6 billion in new funding to improve patient access and timeliness of medical care services. Laweryson said that might help provide additional resources for rural Maine veterans. We need to be able to get our rural veterans to the clinics to receive care, he said. Maybe this means (veterans agencies) can hire more drivers for additional routes.

Staff Writers Randy Billings, Noel Gallagher, Bob Keyes, Mary Pols, Ray Routhier and Eric Russell, and Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Jason Pafundi contributed to this report.

Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at:

[email protected][11]

References

  1. ^ the 52-page plan (www.pressherald.com)
  2. ^ withering bipartisan criticism (www.pressherald.com)
  3. ^ devastate environmental protection in Maine (www.pressherald.com)
  4. ^ The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency s Sea Grant program would disappear (www.pressherald.com)
  5. ^ which include the nation s 29 National Estuarine Research Reserves (www.pressherald.com)
  6. ^ offer jobs to panhandlers (www.pressherald.com)
  7. ^ made national news (www.pressherald.com)
  8. ^ Angus King (www.pressherald.com)
  9. ^ 1980 Indian land claims settlement (www.pressherald.com)
  10. ^ produces components for the F-35 fighter (www.pressherald.com)
  11. ^ [email protected] (www.pressherald.com)

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.

Related Headlines

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:

[1]

Twitter:

References

  1. ^

1 2 3 9