11/01/2008

Story for reason for Ohio state government checks on "Joe the Plumber" crumbling

The Columbus Dispatch is gradually taking apart the claims for why there were checks on computer data regarding "Joe the Plumber."

State employee says she was ordered to check out Joe the Plumber
Friday, October 31, 2008 10:21 PM
BY RANDY LUDLOW
The Columbus Dispatch
Vanessa Niekamp said that when she was asked to run a child-support check on Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher on Oct. 16, she thought it routine. A supervisor told her the man had contacted the state agency about his case.

Niekamp didn't know she just had checked on "Joe the Plumber," who was elevated the night before to presidential politics prominence as Republican John McCain's example in a debate of an average American.

The senior manager would not learn about "Joe" for another week, when she said her boss informed her and directed her to write an e-mail stating her computer check was a legitimate inquiry.

The reason Niekamp said she was given for checking if there was a child-support case on Wurzelbacher does not match the reason given by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

Director Helen Jones-Kelley said her agency checks people who are "thrust into the public spotlight," amid suggestions they may have come into money, to see if they owe support or are receiving undeserved public assistance.

Niekamp told The Dispatch she is unfamiliar with the practice of checking on the newly famous. "I've never done that before, I don't know of anybody in my office who does that and I don't remember anyone ever doing that," she said today.

Democrat Gov. Ted Strickland and Jones-Kelley, both supporters of Democrat Barack Obama, have denied political motives in checking on Wurzelbacher. The Toledo-area resident later endorsed McCain. State officials say any information on "Joe" is confidential and was not released. . . .

Jones-Kelley has revealed that her agency also checked to see if Wurzelbacher was receiving welfare assistance or owed unemployment compensation taxes. "Joe the Plumber" has said he is not involved in a child-support case.

About 3 p.m. on Oct. 16, Niekamp said Carrie Brown, assistant deputy director for child support, asked her to run Wurzelbacher through the computer. Citing privacy laws, Niekamp would not say what, if anything, was found on "Joe."

On Oct. 23, Niekamp said Doug Thompson, deputy director for child support, told her she had checked on "Joe the Plumber." Thompson "literally demanded" that she write an e-mail to the agency's chief privacy officer stating she checked the case for child-support purposes, she said.

Thompson told her that Jones-Kelley said Wurzelbacher might buy a plumbing business and could owe support. Thompson said he replied that he "would check him out."

Niekamp, 38, a senior child-support manager, said she never heard any discussion of politics amid what her supervisors told her about the checks on Wurzelbacher.

Worried about her $69,000-a-year job and potential criminal charges, the 15-year state employee said she went to Inspector General Thomas P. Charles on Oct. 24. She has seen employees fired, and dismissed one herself, for illegally accessing personal information in support cases. Niekamp, a registered Republican, said politics played no role in what she told investigators.

The e-mail that Niekamp said she wrote was not among records provided today to The Dispatch in response to a public-records request. Nor did the agency, as required by state law, say it withheld any records. . . .

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Clark said...

It's an interesting case, especially as it involves personal privacy and potentially illegal government intrusion. I will be interested to see how it evolves. But... there is still no connection to Obama or evidence of a political agenda.

11/02/2008 12:02 PM  

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