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:
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.
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:
SMYRNA, Del. Inmates at a Delaware prison took four corrections department workers hostage Wednesday, in a move the inmates told a local newspaper was caused by concerns about their treatment and the leadership of the United States. The hostage situation drew dozens of officers and law enforcement vehicles to the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna and prompted a statewide lockdown of all prisons. One hostage was released Wednesday afternoon and another was released hours later, leaving authorities negotiating into the night for the last two being held.
A preliminary investigation suggests the disturbance began about 10:30 a.m. when a correctional officer inside Building C, which houses over 100 inmates, radioed for immediate assistance, Delaware State Police spokesman Sgt. Richard Bratz said. Other officers responded to help, and the employees were taken hostage, he said. Bratz initially said five employees were taken hostage, but authorities at a later news conference said the number had been revised to four after one person thought to be among the hostages was found in another part of the prison.
Robert Coupe, secretary of the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security, said 27 inmates also had left the building over the course of the evening. Authorities don t know the dynamics of the takeover or whether those inmates had been held against their will, Coupe said. One of the freed employees was taken to a hospital for injuries that were not life-threatening, authorities said. The condition of the second wasn t immediately available.
Earlier in the day, inmates contacted The News Journal in Wilmington in two phone calls to explain their actions and make demands. Prisoners funneled the calls to the paper with the help of one inmate s fiancee and another person s mother. The mother told the paper her son was among the hostages. In that call, an inmate said their reasons for doing what we re doing included Donald Trump. Everything that he did. All the things that he s doing now. We know that the institution is going to change for the worse. That caller said education for prisoners was the inmates priority. They also said they want effective rehabilitation for all prisoners and information about how money is allocated to prisons.
Coupe said authorities had been communicating with the hostage-takers via radio. He also noted that inmates in Building C have access to television and could be watching the news conference live.
We d like to tell them we want to resolve this peacefully, he said. Coupe declined to comment when asked about the phone calls to the News Journal. but said a dialogue about issues at the prison could happen later.
Once this matter is resolved safely, then that will be the time to talk if the inmates want to talk about conditions, privileges, those types of things, he said. Delaware Gov. John Carney spoke briefly, saying he had talked with the hostages families.
As you can imagine, it s been very difficult for them as well, the new Democratic governor said.
According to the department s website, the prison is Delaware s largest correctional facility for men, with about 2,500 inmates. It houses minimum, medium, and maximum security inmates, and also houses Kent County detainees awaiting trial. It employs 1,500 corrections officers, according to Bruce Rogers, counsel for the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware. Stephen Hampton, an attorney who has represented state inmates in civil rights cases, said complaints have increased in the past year from inmates systemwide about substandard medical care and poor record-keeping.
Hampton also said that pretrial inmates at Vaughn and other facilities are locked up for much of the day, without access to gyms or libraries, because rules prohibit mixing pretrial and sentenced inmates.
There gets to be a tremendous pressure on these inmates, who sometimes make deals just to get out, Hampton said.